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Israel scraps Palestinian peace meet after unity deal — PM’s aide

By AFP - Apr 23,2014 - Last updated at Apr 23,2014

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM/GAZA CITY — Israel cancelled a peace meeting with the Palestinians it said was scheduled for Wednesday after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas pledged to form a joint government, an aide to the premier said.

“Israel cancelled the negotiations meeting that was supposed to take place this evening [Wednesday],” Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on his official Twitter feed.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP, however, that no meeting with the Israelis had been planned for Wednesday.

“Netanyahu stopped the negotiations a long time ago,” Erekat said. “He chose the settlements instead of the peace. He is demolishing the peace process.”

He said that the Palestinians would meet bilaterally with US peace envoy Martin Indyk in Ramallah on Thursday.

Netanyahu restated earlier comments that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — familiarly known as Abu Mazen — had abandoned the path of peace by seeking partnership with Hamas.

“This evening... Abu Mazen chose Hamas, not peace,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying.

“Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace.”

Meanwhile, rival Palestinian leaders from the West Bank and Gaza Strip agreed on Wednesday to form a unity government soon, bringing thousands of people on to the streets in celebration.

Amid the jublilation, an Israeli air strike on Gaza wounded six people, the coastal territory’s Islamist ruling movement Hamas said.

“An agreement has been reached on the formation within five weeks of an independent government headed by President Mahmoud Abbas,” said a joint statement read out by Hamas’ Gaza Premier Ismail Haniyeh in front of a visiting delegation from the PLO.

It was not the first time that the rivals have announced a deal to end seven years of separate Palestinian administrations in the West Bank and Gaza.

Shortly after the deal was announced an Israeli warplane attacked a target at Beit Lahiya, north of Gaza City, wounding six people, one seriously, the Hamas interior ministry said.

An Israeli military statement described the strike as “a joint counter-terrorism operation” by the air force and the Shin Bet intelligence agency, and indicated that it missed its intended target.

“A hit was not identified,” it said, without elaborating.

The Palestinian agreement was reached during overnight talks in Gaza City between Hamas leaders and a PLO team headed by Azzam Al Ahmad, a senior figure in Abbas’ Fateh Party.

It was greeted with public celebration in Gaza City and in towns and refugee camps throughout the enclave, with crowds waving Palestinian flags and shouting “Palestinian unity!”

The rival sides have announced several times before that they would make way for a coalition of technocrats, but such pledges were never implemented and analysts expressed scepticism that this time would be any different.

“People have heard the same thing over and over again and each time the agreement had been broken by either Fateh or Hamas,” said Samir Awad, politics professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank.

Analyst Hani Al Masri said: “This reconciliation has hardly any substance on the ground. It could collapse at any moment.

“Reconciliation [between the Palestinian factions] and negotiations [with Israel] are now just tactics — each side has its own calculations.”

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