Don't 'hurry' to back Palestinian govt: Israel PM

JERUSALEM (AFP) - World governments should not rush to approve the new Palestinian Cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, after the Palestinians accused the Jewish state of punishing them over a unity deal.

"I call on all responsible elements within the international community not to hurry to recognise the Palestinian government that Hamas is part of, and which relies on Hamas," the right-wing Premier told ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting, saying it would "strengthen terror".

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has said the new government, which is to be sworn in on Monday in Ramallah, will be a government of political independents that will reject violence, recognise Israel and abide by all existing agreements.

Although the formal line-up has not yet been made public, it has been pieced together by Mr Abbas' mainstream Fatah movement and Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers in line with a reconciliation deal inked in April.

Technocratic in nature, it will not have a political mandate but will be tasked with organising elections within six months.

According to a draft obtained by AFP, the new government will have 17 ministers, five of them from Gaza, and will be headed by Mr Rami Hamdallah, who will also hold the interior portfolio.

Israel has described the unity deal with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, as a blow to peace and vowed to boycott it.

In a move which further underscored Israel's opposition to the new government, three Gazans who were to travel to the West Bank to be sworn in as ministers were blocked from leaving the coastal enclave, officials said.

Mr Azzam al-Ahmed, Fatah's representative on reconciliation issues, said the swearing-in ceremony will take place at Mr Abbas' Muqataa presidential compound at 1pm on Monday.

But in a sign of persistent tensions, Hamas has refused to confirm the date, citing an ongoing row over the fate of the Palestinian ministry for prisoners, as reports suggested it would be transferred to the responsibility of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Speaking late on Saturday, Mr Abbas said Israel had informed him it would cut all ties with the incoming government to punish the Palestinians for resolving their years-long internal differences.

"Israel wants to punish us for agreeing with Hamas on this government," he said, adding that the Netanyahu administration would "boycott the government the moment it is announced".

But the Palestinians would have an answer for every Israeli move, warned Mr Abbas.

"Each Israeli step will have a proper Palestinian response," he said, without elaborating. "We will take everything step-by-step, we will not be the ones to react first."

He appeared to be alluding to Palestinian intentions to seek further recognition for their promised state in the international diplomatic arena.

Despite Israel's boycott threat, severing ties was unlikely to affect security coordination with the forces of Mr Abbas' Palestinian Authority (PA), Yediot Aharonot newspaper said.

"The assessment is that... security coordination between the two sides will not be harmed," it said, although Israel would hold Mr Abbas "responsible" for any rocket fire emanating from Gaza.

Israel's Deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon, a far-right member of Mr Netanyahu's ruling coalition, called on Washington to halt funding to the PA.

"Abbas has chosen the terrorists of Hamas over negotiating with Israel and we expect our friends to act accordingly," he said.

Earlier, a senior Palestinian official said Israel prevented three Gazans from crossing to the West Bank to be sworn in as ministers in the new government.

"We sent the application in on Thursday and explained that these officials are to be sworn in as ministers in Ramallah, but Israel immediately rejected the application," he told AFP.

Israeli public radio said COGAT, the defence ministry unit responsible for Palestinian civilian coordination, vetoed the request. Contacted by AFP, a spokesman refused to comment, as did Mr Netanyahu's office.

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