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US envoy to meet Abbas on unity govt

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns holds an urgent meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to address the US concern over the Palestinian unity government

AFP , Sunday 20 Nov 2011
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A top US diplomat is to hold emergency talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders over the next two days regarding plans for a Palestinian unity government, the Israeli newspaper Maariv said Sunday.

A spokesman for the US consulate in Jerusalem confirmed that Deputy Secretary of State William Burns would meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Sunday and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.

He was unable to provide any other details about the agenda for the talks.

Maariv said the visit was an "urgent" mission ahead of a meeting at the end of this week between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that will finalise plans for the implementation a reconciliation deal.

The terms of the implementation have already been hammered out over a series of secret meetings in Cairo, according to Palestinian officials, but will be announced during the Abbas-Meshaal summit.

The reconciliation deal signed in May calls for the formation of an interim government of independents that will pave the way for legislative and presidential elections by May 2012.

Until now, Abbas's reported insistence on maintaining his current prime minister Salam Fayyad, who is well-regarded by the international community including Washington, had proved a sticking point.

Fayyad himself has said publicly that he does not want to be an obstacle to the reconciliation process, and Abbas has reportedly agreed to drop him in favour of a consensus candidate.

That should allow the long-time rivals to begin implementing the rest of the deal, but has raised concerns among US and Israeli officials.

Israel has criticised Abbas for seeking reconciliation with Hamas, and Washington -- which designates the Islamist group a terror organisation -- responded cautiously to the deal when it was signed in May.

Maariv said Burns was expected to deliver a strong warning to Abbas that Washington would cut funding to the Palestinians if the government failed to adhere to principles drafted by the international peacemaking Quartet.

The group has said any Palestinian government must renounce violence, agree to abide by previously signed agreements with Israel and accept Israel's right to exist.

Maariv reported, without citing a source, that Egyptian officials were trying to secure a deal under which the new government would only be required to accept the Oslo Accords.

The make-up of the new government has yet to be revealed, but it is expected to consist of unaffiliated technocrats, in a bid to placate both parties and to avoid the loss of international funding.

The newspaper said Burns, the number-two ranking official at the US State Department, was being dispatched after Netanyahu warned that Israeli security forces would end cooperation with their Palestinian counterparts if the new government failed to adhere to the Quartet principles.

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