Rice warns Hamas to moderate

Speaking from Egypt during the first leg of her Middle East tour, Ms Rice stipulated that Hamas must disarm and follow through with any previous commitments made with Israel by the Palestinian Authority.

“You cannot have one foot in the camp of terror and another foot in the camp of politics,” Ms Rice said at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

“Obviously, you can’t have peace if you don’t recognise the other partner and therefore the recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the need to renounce terror,” she said. But the militant Islamic group said direct talks with the Jewish state would be a waste of time.

Her five-day regional visit aims to shore up the support of US allies and she used her first press conference to put the onus on Egypt to help Hamas formally acknowledge Israel and to adopt a more moderate stance. “Egypt is an important voice at this time of change and choice for the Palestinian people,” said Ms Rice.

In the militant group’s defence its top political leader, Khaled Meshaal, vowed a Hamas-led government would successfully reconcile its struggle against the Israeli occupation with the exercise of power.

Hamas to form government

Only hours earlier in his Gaza City office, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas handed Hamas’s Ismail Haniya an official nomination letter, tasking the movement with forming the new government.

“I received the nomination letter from President Abu Mazen (Mr Abbas). The Hamas leadership will examine the contents of this letter before soon giving a definitive response to the president,” Mr Haniya told reporters.

Speaking to AFP, a source in Mr Abbas’s Ramallah office said that the President has instructed the Hamas government to commit to agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the principle of a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

Mr Haniya has three weeks to formulate a cabinet line-up and secure endorsement by the parliament.

It is one month since Hamas claimed victory over Mr Abbas’s Fatah party in the Palestinian general elections. But Mr Haniya, who is largely viewed as a pragmatist within the radical group, said “political differences between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority president will be resolved by dialogue”.

Financial aid embargo

Meanwhile Egypt has agreed to the appeal by Condoleezza Rice for it to guide Hamas to a more moderate stance, but at the same time rejected the US call for Arab states to deny direct aid to the radical group when it forms a government.

In the joint news conference Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said Egypt would not back the cut in financial support to the Palestinians that they fear will leave their aid-dependent government in crisis.

Mr Abul Gheit also slammed Israel’s withholding of Palestinian customs receipts and said he was confident that Hamas would respond to the demands of the international community.

“We should give Hamas time,” Abul Gheit said. “I’m sure that Hamas will develop, will evolve. We should not prejudge the issue,” he said.

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