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Published: Friday April 25, 2014 MYT 12:02:45 AM
Updated: Friday April 25, 2014 MYT 12:02:57 AM

Israel suspends peace talks with Palestinians - Israeli official

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel suspended peace talks with the Palestinians on Thursday in response to President Mahmoud Abbas's unity agreement with Hamas Islamists.

"The security cabinet decided unanimously this evening that the government of Israel will not hold negotiations with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas, a terror organisation that calls for Israel's destruction," an official statement said after a six-hour meeting.

Asked to clarify whether that meant the talks were now frozen or would be called off only after a unity government was formed, a senior Israeli official said: "They are currently suspended."

Hamas, listed by the United States as a terrorist organisation, announced the unity pact with Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on Wednesday. Hamas won the last Palestinian parliamentary polls in 2006 then seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to the Western-backed Abbas in 2007.

The deal envisions a unity government within five weeks and national elections six months later.

The Israeli official appeared to leave open the possibility the talks could be renewed if a future Palestinian government with Hamas's participation accepted international conditions the Islamist group has long rejected.

But that point might be moot - the current negotiations are due to expire on April 29, and the United States has been struggling for weeks to secure an extension.

International sponsors of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have demanded Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept existing interim peace deals.

The statement, issued by Netanyahu's office, said Israel would respond with unspecified additional steps to what it described as "unilateral actions" by Abbas's Palestinian Authority, a possible reference to Israeli economic sanctions.

In its initial response to the Hamas-PLO pact, Israel cancelled a meeting on Wednesday with Palestinian peace negotiators.

After the unity agreement, which followed years of unsuccessful reconciliation attempts, Israeli leaders said Abbas could not be Israel's peace partner if he forged a partnership with Hamas.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch)

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