GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinian leaders ...met to usher in a unity government intended to halt factional fighting and ease a crippling Western aid embargo. ...Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Islamist Hamas movement said the new coalition government upheld the right to "all forms" of resistance against Israel.
Israel again ruled out dealing with the new government, citing Hamas's refusal to accept demands, set by a Quartet of foreign peace mediators a year ago, that it
- forswear violence,
- recognize the Jewish state, and
- accept past interim peace deals.
....The coalition's future may hang on whether it can erode the foreign boycott of the aid-dependent Palestinian Authority, which has been unable to pay its employees in full for a year. The Quartet -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- suspended direct aid to the government after Hamas beat Fatah in elections and took power last March.
The United States is expected to continue its boycott, but a U.S. official said on Friday that Washington would leave the door open to unofficial contacts with Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent with strong reformist credentials. France has invited new Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr to Paris, and Britain plans to allow diplomatic contacts with ministers not from Hamas.
....The Saudi-brokered accord reached by Hamas and Fatah on February 8 pledged "respect" for past peace deals with Israel. Even though those agreements were intended eventually to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Hamas says it will never recognize the Jewish state's right to exist.
Hamas officials say the Islamist movement will back the government's political agenda only as a "transitional" phase. "We believe in liberating our land gradually," senior Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri told Reuters. "Any transitional agenda that deals with gradual achievement of our goals on the basis of constant rights is one we can favor."