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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 13:37 GMT
Norwegian minister meets Hamas PM
Norwegian deputy foreign minister and Palestinian PM
Norway was one of the first states to recognise the unity government
The Norwegian deputy foreign minister has become the first senior European official to hold talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

This comes a year after Western countries imposed a boycott on a Palestinian government dominated by the militant group, Hamas.

Mr Haniya now leads a new government which brings together the rival Hamas and Fatah factions.

This was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Palestinian parliament on Saturday.

Norway, which is not part of the European Union, immediately recognised the unity government, and said it was lifting an economic and political boycott.

After meeting Mr Haniya, Norway's deputy foreign minister, Raymond Johansen, said: "We hope that all the European countries, and even other countries, will support this unity government.

"We hope that this unity government will work hard in order to fulfil the expectations from the international community."

Mixed reaction

The emergence of the unity government has provoked a range or reactions.

Israel has said it will not deal with it.

US diplomats have said they are prepared to work with certain ministers who are not members of Hamas, while expressing unhappiness that the new government does not recognise Israel.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (L) and Hamas' Ismail Haniya
The new government provoked a range of reactions from around the world

France has invited the new foreign minister to pay a visit, while Britain is signalling some flexibility.

BBC Middle East analyst Roger hardy says that Israel fears the mixed reaction to the unity government may be a kind of creeping recognition of Hamas - which, in the end, will legitimise Hamas and its uncompromising stand towards the Jewish state.

Norway has been involved in Middle East diplomacy in the past. Palestinians and Israelis negotiated their first interim peace deal in Oslo and signed the accord in Washington in 1993, clearing the way for setting up a Palestinian Authority.

Controversial appointment

Separately on Monday, Hamas criticised the appointment of a senior figure from the Fatah party, Mohammed Dahlan, as national security adviser.

A Hamas spokesman, Salah al-Bardawil, described Mr Dahlan as a provocative personality, and said he should not be permitted to take up his new job while also remaining a member of parliament.

He said Hamas would ask Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to reconsider the appointment.

Mr Dahlan, a former security chief in Gaza, is known to be a strong opponent of Hamas, and has been involved in frequent verbal clashes with its leaders over the past few months.

In other developments:

  • Reports from Israel said an electricity company employee was shot and injured while he was working inside Israel near the Gaza Strip. The military wing of the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, said it carried out the attack in response to Israeli army operations against Palestinians.

  • The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said that one of its members was killed in Gaza when explosives he was handling went off accidentally. About 10 other people were injured by the blast at the man's house.



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