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Abbas says Gaza needs the unified government

PALESTINIAN President Mahmoud Abbas urged his Hamas rivals yesterday to move quickly toward a unity government that would be able to rebuild Gaza after a devastating Israeli military offensive there.

Abbas made his comments as negotiators from his Fatah Party plan to meet Hamas officials in Egypt this week for what are expected to be the most serious reconciliation talks since Hamas violently seized power in Gaza nearly two years ago.

"We must reach a national reconciliation government," Abbas said. "This government will be responsible for reconstruction (in Gaza). The faster a government is formed, the faster we will be able to rebuild in the Gaza Strip, quickly, for the sake of our people."

Abbas said a new unity government must accept past Palestinian agreements. That would include recognizing Israel's right to exist ?? which Hamas rejects. Abbas' Prime Minister Salam Fayyad submitted his resignation last Saturday to clear the way for a unity government.

A previous unity government was paralyzed by Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel, before their agreement deteriorated into the 2007 Gaza civil war.

Hamas have shown few signs of flexibility heading into the latest talks. "We don't accept any preconditions regarding the platform and the program of the coming government," said its spokesman Fawzi Barhoum.

Despite the tough line, Hamas may be forced into moderation following Israel's offensive early this year.

For reconstruction to take place, Israel and Egypt must lift a blockade of Gaza's borders imposed after the Hamas takeover. A unity government would have a better chance of easing the blockade to allow construction materials and other supplies into Gaza.

The Palestinians also will soon be dealing with a new Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who advocates tough action against Hamas.

The Israeli offensive, launched to halt Palestinian rocket attacks, ended with separate cease-fire declarations by Israel and Hamas.

But over the weekend Israeli aircraft attacked a Gaza City warehouse and struck two tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border, the military said.


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