U.S. supports Abbas unity government

The Baltimore Sun

UNITED NATIONS -- The Bush administration expressed support yesterday for the efforts by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to establish a national unity government with Hamas, but said the United States would continue to withhold aid from the Palestinian Authority.

Washington's European allies have been pushing President Bush to engage more fully in peace efforts in the Middle East. An announcement yesterday by the four powers of the so-called quartet that have been working to promote peace negotiations - the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations - that they support Abbas' efforts came as part of talks on the periphery of the General Assembly.

"The quartet welcomes the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a government of national unity, in the hope that the platform of such a government would reflect quartet principles and allow for early engagement," Secretary-General Kofi Annan and foreign ministers of the quartet said in a statement.

The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, said yesterday that he believed the Palestinians were close to establishing a unity government. But he said he and his Hamas movement were not prepared to accept the demands made by Israel and Western countries.

His statements underscored the uphill battle facing Abbas as he seeks to restore international aid. "Conditions are being imposed on the Palestinian people," Haniya said at a rally in Gaza, according to Agence France-Presse.

Western countries have cut off money to the Palestinian Authority, and Israel has not turned over the $50 million a month in taxes and customs receipts that it collects on the Palestinians' behalf. The cutoffs came when Hamas won elections in January and then took over leadership of the Palestinian government.

The West and Israel want the Palestinian Authority to agree to three conditions: to recognize the right of Israel to exist, to forswear violence and to accept all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

"They want us to condemn the resistance and recognize agreements," Haniya said. But Hamas is committed to a platform that "does not recognize the legality of the occupation and reaffirms the legality of the resistance," he added.

The proposed unity government is intended to bring about a restoration of Western aid. But with increasing friction, the internal Palestinian talks were put on hold while Abbas is abroad, and some in his party are questioning the rationale for such a government if Hamas is not willing to meet the demands that could restore assistance.

Bush met with Abbas in New York on Tuesday. Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser, said Abbas had told White House officials that Hamas would strike a deal only under terms that allowed for some public ambiguity over its stand on Israel, even if it agreed to recognize previous agreements and Israel's right to exist.

But Abrams said the United States had argued that the Hamas leadership was being quite explicit in its anti-Israel stand and its support of terrorist tactics.

Meanwhile, German warships will set sail for the Mediterranean today, after parliament voted yesterday to send up to 2,400 troops to patrol the waters off Lebanon. Haunted by the Holocaust, Germany had resisted sending soldiers to the Middle East for fear of clashes with Israeli troops.

The deployment, the country's first in the Middle East since World War II, was approved by a 3-1 ratio. It thrusts Germany into an uncertain phase of its steady development into a nation that projects military force outside its borders.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government pushed for the deployment despite the deep misgivings of many Germans, described the mission as having a "historical dimension."

"There is perhaps no other area of the world," Merkel said in parliament, "where Germany's unique responsibility, the unique responsibility of every German government for the lessons of our past, is so clear."

German soldiers patrol towns in northern Afghanistan, jungles in central Africa and wooded hills in Bosnia and Kosovo.

To avoid conflicts with Israeli soldiers, this deployment will include no ground troops - only two frigates with helicopters, two supply ships and four fast-patrol boats. Even with a full complement of 2,400 troops, it would rank third in size for Germany's foreign deployments, after Afghanistan and the Balkans.

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