Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas salutes 'positive' speech by President Abbas

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) - The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas welcomed a Saturday speech by President Mahmud Abbas to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), with which it signed a reconciliation deal this week.

"The speech had mostly positive points, and we cannot but support it on topics such as Jerusalem, reconciliation and not recognising (Israel as) the Jewish state, in addition to the failure of (peace) negotiations," Mr Bassem Naim, an adviser to Hamas' Gaza Strip Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, told AFP.

Mr Abbas addressed the PLO's Central Council, which had convened in Ramallah to chart a course of action after Israel suspended United States-brokered peace talks in response to the Wednesday deal with Hamas.

Under the agreement, Mr Abbas would head an "independent government" of technocrats, to be formed within five weeks.

That new interim administration would be charged with holding parliamentary and presidential elections within six months of taking office.

Israel said it would not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas, which is pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state and has always rejected peace talks.

But the Palestinian president stressed that the government would follow his principles of recognising Israel, rejecting violence and recognising international commitments.

He also said it would deal only with internal domestic issues and not be involved in negotiations with Israel, which would remain the responsibility of the PLO.

Mr Naim concurred, saying "it is not the government's mission to take care of political issues".

"It has only three main missions: unifying the Palestinian organisations, preparing for elections and reconstructing Gaza."

Despite being invited, Hamas delegates did not participate in the Saturday meeting.

Mr Aziz Dweik, the Hamas Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament, told AFP the group had stayed away because "we need a central council that is effective, not merely window dressing".

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