Blair says world should encourage Palestinian unity government

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The Independent Online

British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Sunday said the world should restore contacts with the Palestinians if the ruling Hamas group agrees to form a unity government, but only if the coalition accepts Western demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

With the statement, Blair became the first Western leader to signal that a Palestinian government that includes members of Hamas could be acceptable. The international community has been boycotting Hamas, which the European Union and United States consider a terrorist group, since it won legislative elections in January.

Blair spoke after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate who has been trying to persuade Hamas to join a unity government. Abbas believes a coalition would force Hamas to soften its anti-Israel ideology.

Blair said the government would have to accept the requirements set by the "Quartet" of Mideast peacemakers — renouncing violence, recognition of Israel and accepting previous peace agreements with the Jewish state.

"If such a government is formed, I believe it is right that the international community deal with such a government," Blair said.

Hamas has so far rejected the international demands, despite crippling economic sanctions that have caused widespread hardship in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Abbas said, "We are serious about putting together a national unity government to put an end to the siege imposed on us."