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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 March 2007, 21:20 GMT
Israel shuns Palestinian cabinet
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L), Prime Minister Ismail Haniya (R) and Ahmad Bahar, Deputy Speaker of Parliament
The formation of the cabinet follows weeks of tense negotiations
Israel has reiterated that it will not deal with the new Palestinian government of national unity, whose cabinet has been sworn into office.

A spokeswoman for Israeli PM Ehud Olmert accused the cabinet, comprising Fatah, Hamas, independent and left-wing MPs, of endorsing the use of "terror".

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas said statehood was the priority of the new coalition.

Palestinians hope the formation of the coalition will end a Western boycott.

The European Union said it welcomed the formation of the government of national unity but remained cautious about a possible resumption of aid.

"The EU will carefully assess the platform and actions of the new government and its ministers," it said in a statement.

Shortly after the Palestinian cabinet was sworn in, Norway, a key donor, announced it would recognise the new government.

"The unity government's programme takes important steps toward meeting the demands set by the international community," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said in a statement.

"On this basis, Norway will therefore resume political and economic relations with the Palestinian government."

'No change'

Israeli spokeswoman Miri Eisen told the BBC that despite the formation of a new government, the Palestinians' policies remained the same.

The government affirms that resistance in all its forms
Ismail Haniya
Palestinian prime minister
"We have a brand new government, it won't recognise Israel, it won't renounce terror, it won't accept any of the former treaties, and that means that basically they're accepting the guidelines of the exact same Hamas government that we've had in the Palestinian Authority for the last year," she said.

Ms Eisen was speaking after the Palestinian parliament met simultaneously in Gaza City and in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with a video link that strained to cope with the applause and cheering that greeted the result of a vote backing the new government.

"The government affirms that resistance in all its forms, including popular resistance to occupation, is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people," Mr Haniya told MPs.

"Our people have the right to defend themselves from continuous Israeli aggression," he said.

But he also said that his cabinet would work on maintaining a truce if Israel would stop its "occupation aggression".

The BBC's Matthew Price says that while Mr Haniya's speech will not go far enough for Israel, it is important that a senior member of Hamas has again called for the establishment of a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel since 1967.

Our correspondent says that some see this as an implicit recognition of Israel's existence.

Earlier, Palestinian Authority (PA) President and Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas called for an end to "the siege" - referring to a crippling Western embargo.

He said the Palestinian people "reject violence in all its forms", and called for "mutual commitment by Israel to stop all violence".

'Door open'

The Palestinian economy has been badly hit by the embargo.

It was imposed after the election victory in January last year of Hamas, which rejects international calls for it to recognise Israel, renounce violence and comply with previous agreements between Israel and the PA.

The new government contains a cross-section of Palestinian parties, including some ministers who recognise Israel, our correspondent says.

The US has indicated it may leave the door open to some contact with the new finance minister.

Salam Fayyad is a Western-backed economist who is thought to be respected by the Bush administration.

The new administration was forged after several months of fighting between the Hamas and Fatah factions left more than 140 people dead.

The new cabinet takes office amid increasing lawlessness in the Gaza Strip.

There has been a series of abductions over recent months of Western aid workers and journalists. Intensive efforts are continuing to find missing BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, who is feared kidnapped.


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