Mideast Quartet to discuss approach to new Palestinian government

The Quartet of Middle East peacemakers will discuss its approach to the new Palestinian unity government between Fatah and Hamas on Monday, European Union officials said.

Senior officials from the U.S., the EU, the U.N. and Russia will hold a conference call Monday, German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said. Germany holds the EU's rotating presidency.

It will be the first joint consultations among Quartet members since the formation of a Palestinian unity government was completed on Thursday and the legislature approved it on Saturday.

The call will involve U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as well as senior EU officials and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Cristina Gallach, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who will be meeting Rice in Washington later Monday, said the EU wanted to promote a "pro-active wait-and-see attitude" toward the new government, which has not explicitly recognized Israel or renounced violence.

Quartet members have withheld crucial direct financial aid to the Palestinian government since the radical Islamic group Hamas came to power in elections a year ago. The Palestinians are hoping a coalition government with more moderate members of the Fatah party will end their isolation.

"What has happened with the new coalition is positive," Gallach said. "The EU believes it should maintain the provisional aid mechanism, while establishing contact with non-Hamas members of the government we have already worked with, and watching and analyzing its acts and deeds."

She said that in the past the EU has worked closely with several of the incoming Cabinet ministers, including the ministers of economy, interior and foreign affairs, none of whom belong to Hamas.

"The national unity government has already given the Palestinian people unity and peace," Galach said, referring to its effect in lessening deadly Palestinian infighting.

Even though the new Palestinian government includes Fatah, many countries are reluctant to recognize it until Hamas rejects violence, recognizes Israel and accepts previous peace accords.

"We should evaluate very carefully how this government, how the individual members of this government, behave in the coming days and weeks," Jaeger said.

He said the question of how the EU deals with the Palestinian government is likely to be a "central theme" at an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Bremen at the end of this month, reports AP.

In Washington, White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the U.S. would watch the new government's deeds closely. He called on the Palestinians to free an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-allied militants last June as a goodwill gesture.

But Moscow has indicated it would like the Quartet to lift sanctions against the Palestinian Authority in response to the approval of the new Cabinet.

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