Hamas, Fatah formally sign unity pact

Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas in a formal ceremony signed a unity agreement, repairing a four-year rift.

The ceremony Wednesday in Cairo was delayed for two hours after a question about whether the head of the Islamist Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, should sit on stage and if he would speak at the event.

The signing of the unity deal turns “the black page of division,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Fatah party, said following the signing at the Egyptian intelligence headquarters.

“Our battle is with the Israeli enemy and not with Palestinian factions,” Mashaal said in an address following Abbas. 

The reconciliation agreement will form an interim Fatah-Hamas government to run the West Bank, currently controlled by the P.A., and Gaza, controlled by Hamas. Parliamentary and presidential elections will take place within a year. Abbas has said he will not be a candidate.

The document was signed in front of members of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has governed Egypt since president Hosni Mubarak was deposed in January. Arab members of Israel’s Knesset also attended the signing, according to reports.

In an interview with Israel Radio shortly before the signing, Nabil Shaath, a senior Abbas aid, said that it is unfair for international leaders including the Mideast Quartet to demand that Hamas recognize Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday during a meeting with Quartet envoy Tony Blair called on Abbas to halt the agreement.

“I call on Abu Mazen to annul the agreement with Hamas immediately and choose the path of peace with Israel,” Netanyahu told Blair during their meeting Tuesday to discuss the stalled peace process and other diplomatic issues including the elimination of Osama bin Laden, according to a statement issued from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“The agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is a hard blow to the peace process,” Netanyahu said. “How is it possible to achieve peace with a government, half of which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and even praises the arch-murderer Osama bin Laden?”

Briefs: New Palestinian coalition government sworn in, Israel rejects new Palestinian coalition gove

P.A. Coalition Sworn In

The Hamas-Fatah coalition was sworn in Saturday in a joint parliamentary session in Gaza City and Ramallah. P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, gave a conciliatory speech but his new partner in power, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, spoke in favor of further “resistance” against Israel.

Jerusalem ruled out talks with the new government given its refusal to accept year-old peacemaking conditions set by the Quartet of foreign mediators. But there were signs that some Western powers were wavering. Washington voiced alarm at the P.A. platform, yet U.S. officials said they might talk to its new finance minister, Salam Fayyad, who is not a Hamas member.

France invited P.A. Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, another political independent, to visit Paris. One Western country immediately recognized the new P.A. government — Norway.

Israel Rejects P.A. Coalition

Israel’s Cabinet voted to continue its boycott of the Palestinian Authority government. In its Sunday meeting, 19 ministers voted to maintain the boycott and two abstained — Yuli Tamir and Raleb Majadele of Labor. Prime Minster Ehud Olmert had called to keep the boycott earlier in the meeting.

“Israel expects the international community to continue to impose sanctions on the Palestinian government until it accepts the three conditions set by the Quartet,” he said.

Those conditions are recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting past peace deals. The P.A. unity government was established Saturday, the result of a deal made between Fatah and Hamas after bloody internecine fighting. Israel called on Western nations to continue an aid embargo until the government accepts the Quartet’s conditions, but Olmert said he would stay in contact with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah.

Europe Insists P.A. Recognize Israel

The European Union Council refused to release funds to the Palestinian Authority until the unity government renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel.

The German Press Agency reported that though Hamas and Fatah reached a compromise and created a new Cabinet, the E.U., presided over by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has rejected appeals by P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas for the release of funds.

The E.U. will continue to release only those funds dedicated to social projects until the Palestinian government accepts preconditions set by the diplomatic Quartet, which include rejecting violence and recognizing the Jewish state.

Peres Boosts Olmert

Shimon Peres said Ehud Olmert is one of Israel’s best prime ministers. Peres, currently the vice premier, came out Saturday against detractors of the embattled prime minister.

“I think he has had a difficult period in office,” Peres told Israel Radio. “I think he is one of the best prime ministers that there has been. I think he has been making great and praiseworthy efforts.”

Olmert’s popularity has plummeted following last year’s inconclusive Lebanon war and a slew of high-level political scandals in Israel. But Peres urged the public to await the findings of a war inquiry and the justice system.

“They have passed judgment before the trial,” he said. “They have given him a bad name before matters have been made clear.”

Israeli Ex-POWs Come Out Against Egypt

Israeli war veterans accused Egyptian forces of murdering Israeli troops who were taken prisoner. The statements Sunday by three former Israeli captives to Yediot Achronot came in response to Egyptian ire at an Israeli documentary on the Six-Day War in which Egypt suggested that some of its soldiers were massacred after surrendering to Israel. Ram Doron, chairman of the ex-POW lobby Erim Balaila, said he had many accounts of Israeli prisoners who were tortured and killed in Egyptian captivity.

“If we make a reckoning between us and the Egyptians, there will be no comparison,” he said.

Giora Rom, a former Israeli fighter pilot who was shot down over Egypt in 1969, accused Cairo of double standards.

“What bothers me about their criticism is that the whole time they did not publish anything about what they did to the hostages,” he said. “They murdered many captives. Don’t focus on those who remained alive but on those who were murdered.”

Quarter of Israeli Arabs Deny Holocaust

More than one in four Israeli Arabs are Holocaust deniers, a survey found. According to the Haifa University poll released Sunday, 28 percent of Israeli Arabs say they do not believe the Nazi genocide took place.

Israeli commentators said the findings reflected growing resentment of the Zionist establishment by Israeli Arabs, especially in light of the diplomatic deadlock on the Palestinian front. According to the poll, the incidence of Holocaust denial is especially high — 33 percent — among Israeli Arabs of school age, even though the syllabus of Arab schools in Israel include mandatory classes on 20th century European history, including World War II.

The poll had 721 Israeli Arab respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Canadian Forces Get Jewish Chaplain

The Canadian Forces reportedly appointed an Orthodox Jewish chaplain, the first since World War II. Shmais.com reported that Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn was sworn in at a ceremony at the National Defense Medical Centre Auditorium in Ottawa last week. Mendelsohn, a Chabad emissary in Ottawa, will serve as chaplain to a unit in that province that provides health support services to reserve soldiers there.

Arab Minister Snubs Anthem

The only Arab member of Israel’s Cabinet said he refuses to sing the national anthem. Galeb Majadle said Sunday that he feels alienated by the Zionist sentiment of “Hatikvah,” which includes a line about the “Jewish soul” yearning for Jerusalem.

“The anthem was written for Zionist Jews,” Majadle told Israel Radio. “I am neither Zionist nor a Jew. I am a proud Arab and Muslim.”

But he said that he does allow Israel’s flag to be hung on the wall of his office, albeit alongside a plaque with Quranic verses. Majadle’s statement came amid mounting tensions between the Jewish majority and Arab minority in Israel over demands by representatives of the latter for the country’s Zionist framework to be abandoned.

Chabad-Lubavitch Sends Emissary to Montana

Rabbi Chaim Bruk, 25, and his wife, Chavie, 22, will be based in Bozeman, Mont. The state has approximately 800 Jews in a population of 903,000. Bozeman is considered to have the most active Jewish community in Montana and has a Reform synagogue.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.