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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 22:47 GMT 23:47 UK
Palestinians 'back to square one'

By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN
Mr Abbas has sought a coalition between Fatah and Hamas
Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that efforts to form a government of national unity will have to go back to square one.

Mr Abbas appeared to blame the setback on the Hamas militant movement.

Hamas controls the current government but has been subjected to a Western economic blockade because it refuses to accept Israel's right to exist.

There had been hopes that the formation of a government of national unity might lead to the ending of the sanctions.

Speaking at the United Nations a few days ago, Mr Abbas had said that the proposed new Palestinian government of national unity would honour past agreements recognising Israel's right to exist.

Back to the beginning

But such a government would have to include Hamas and, soon after Mr Abbas spoke, Hamas leaders reiterated that they would have no part in any administration that recognised Israel.

Mr Abbas has now conceded that efforts to form a government will have to go back to the beginning.

He indicated that he regarded Hamas as having reneged on an agreement regarding the new administration's political agenda.

He said that after the deal was signed, there had been, as he put it, regressions.

The Israeli, American and European Union's economic sanctions on the current Hamas-controlled government have had a crushing impact.

They are squeezing the life out of what was always a very weak Palestinian economy.

Many people here hope that the formation of a coalition administration with a more moderate approach to Israel might lead to a lifting of the sanctions.

But it is going to be very difficult for Hamas and Mr Abbas's Fatah Party to bridge their differences on the key issue of whether a Palestinian government should, even implicitly, recognise Israel's right to exist.

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