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Page last updated at 20:51 GMT, Monday, 24 March 2008

Hamas 'wrecking Mid-East peace'

Dick Cheney (l) and Ehud Olmert (r), 22 March 2008
Mr Cheney (L) said both sides need to make concessions

US Vice-President Dick Cheney has said Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with Iran and Syria, is trying to torpedo the Middle East peace process.

Mr Cheney made the remarks after breakfast with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, as he ended a tour of the Middle East.

He met Palestinian leaders on Sunday, saying both sides needed to make painful concessions to achieve peace.

A Palestinian state was long overdue, he said, but militant rocket attacks against Israel jeopardised this.

"There is evidence that Hamas is supported by Iran and Syria and they are doing everything they can to torpedo the peace process," Mr Cheney said.

He earlier gave Israel strong backing on security issues.

Reconciliation talks

Later on Monday, the US vice-president flew from Israel to Turkey and held talks in Ankara with senior government officials on Iraq and on Iran's nuclear programme.

Turkey is the last leg of Mr Cheney's tour, which has included Iraq, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

But US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to return to the region within weeks.

Mr Cheney's visit coincided with an agreement between rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah to hold direct talks to try to settle their bitter feud over control of the West Bank and Gaza.

The discussions - expected next month - are the first real sign of progress since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah last June.

The announcement followed five days of reconciliation talks brokered by the president of Yemen.

Any resolution will depend on how and when Hamas gives up control of the Gaza Strip.

But a leading Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said his group would not relinquish Gaza until there was agreement on the future control of all Palestinian territories.

Scepticism

Asked about the Yemen deal, Mr Cheney said the US would not support working with Hamas unless it fundamentally changed its role.

Hamas is considered by the US and the European Union to be a terrorist organisation.

US President George W Bush has said he hopes for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians before he leaves office in January.

But the BBC's Tim Franks in Jerusalem says both sides are sceptical about the chances for peace.

Opinion polls suggest that most people doubt that the current talks, given an extra push by the Americans at the end of last year, will lead to a deal any time soon.


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Cheney speaking after talks with Mahmoud Abbas




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