CAIRO, Egypt - The Hamas-led Palestinian government agreed Sunday to an
international peace conference with Israel after the Arab League - angered by
Israel's military offensive in Gaza - voted to end a financial blockade on
Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas endorsed a statement by Arab foreign
ministers calling for the peace conference during a meeting in Cairo to respond
to a US veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Gaza offensive.
Israel responded by saying it would not
hold talks with Hamas unless it agreed to demands, backed by the US and Europe,
that the group recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by existing
agreements between Israel and Palestinians.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the
Hamas pauses during a meeting with former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed
Qureia of the Fatah, not seen, in Gaza city, Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from Fatah said he expected to reach a
long-delayed deal on forming a joint government with the militant Hamas
group by the end of the month. Hamas officials also said a deal was close.
Zahar said the Palestinians had asked for the peace conference "in order to
reach just and comprehensive solutions." The acceptance marked the first time
the Hamas-led government has indicated it would consider making amends with the
The West cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid and tax
revenues to the Palestinians after Hamas took power in March in an effort to
pressure the Islamic militant group to moderate its anti-Israel ideology.
Israel made clear that Hamas' shift fell short of its demands. Mark Regev, a
foreign ministry spokesman, said he was not aware of the conference proposal.
But he said Hamas could not be a party to talks with Israel unless it met the
international community's stipulations.
"A multilateral conference doesn't make Hamas legitimate," Regev said. "What
makes Hamas legitimate is accepting the international benchmarks."
Hamas' decision came as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in
Washington Sunday ahead of a meeting with President Bush on Monday.
The Arab League statement said ministers sought a conference to resolve the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict "according to international resolutions and the
principle of 'land for peace'." Arabs want Hamas to endorse a 2002 Arab
initiative that calls for peace in exchange for land seized by Israel in the
1967 Middle East war - the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Sunday was the first time Zahar had attended an Arab foreign ministers'
meeting since Hamas became the ruling party. The Arab League had previously
refused to let him join unless Hamas accepted the peace initiative.
Arab ministers also decided Sunday to end a financial blockade on the
Palestinians to show their anger over US veto in the Security Council on
The U.N. draft resolution would have condemned the Israeli offensive in Gaza
that has killed more 50 people recently and also demanded that Israeli troops
pull out of the territory. US Ambassador John Bolton said the Arab-backed
resolution was "biased against Israel and politically motivated."
It was the second US veto of a draft resolution on Israeli military
operations in Gaza this year.
"There will no longer be an international siege," said Bahrain's Foreign
Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa.
The economic sanctions against Hamas have debilitated the Palestinians and
have led to clashes between the Islamic militants and the more moderate Fatah
party led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has been trying to form
a more moderate government and renew the peace process with Israel.
Arab banks have not transferred funds to the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority
for fear of US-led sanctions. The United States and European Union lists Hamas
as a terrorist organization and takes steps against those who transfer funds to
such groups. It was not immediately clear whether Arab banks would immediately
begin transactions in response to Sunday's decision and if sanctions would be
imposed if they did.