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EU Ministers Mull Response To Palestinian Unity Government

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ The European Union will maintain its wait-and-see policy toward a Palestinian unity government until Hamas and Fatah agree on a division of Cabinet posts and finalize a policy toward Israel, a top official said Monday.

``We have to see results,'' External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers. ``We have been waiting for so many months to have a national unity government ... a few more weeks will also be borne by us.''

Ferrero-Waldner dismissed suggestions from France and others that the EU should move more quickly to offer early encouragement to the new Palestinian Cabinet _ perhaps even without the condition that the militant Hamas movement fulfill international demands on recognizing Israel.

``We simply cannot decide yet when, or even if, we will be able to re-engage with the new Palestinian government of national unity because we will need to see its program and we will need to see its actions,'' she said.

Earlier, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier _ whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency _ noted that Monday's talks would focus on Palestinian efforts to establish a unity government, following the failure of the latest round of negotiations between rivals Fatah and Hamas.

Steinmeier noted that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh had failed to make progress in coalition talks Sunday in Gaza.

Palestinian officials had expressed hopes that the Cabinet could be named his week, although two weeks remain in the period formally allotted to do so.

The Palestinian sides were negotiating on the basis of an accord hammered out last month in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, laying out the framework of a government bringing Abbas' Fatah into partnership with Haniyeh's Hamas.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to brief the 27-member bloc Monday about Israel's opposition to the Mecca accords and the power-sharing deal it envisages between the moderate Fatah and Islamic Hamas, which continues to refuse to recognize the existence of the Jewish state.

The Europeans, like other members of the Quartet mediating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict _ the U.S., Russia and the U.N. _ have demanded that the new Palestinian government recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect past accords.

But some EU nations favor quickly resuming direct assistance to the new government, after a yearlong boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority that has economically devastated the Palestinian Authority.

Last month, Abbas toured European capitals asking for Western support of the incoming coalition government. The moderate leader said the government _ if not Hamas _ would be committed to rejecting violence, international law and to meeting all previous agreements with Israel.
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