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Israel seeks world support over Hamas

Minister warns of 'unprecedented' response to terror

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called Sunday for a "unified international position" against a Palestinian government that includes an armed group calling for Israel's destruction.

He warned that Israel will not meet with Palestinian officials until Hamas, the militant group that won a landslide victory in last week's parliamentary elections, changes its official stance.

Speaking to his Cabinet about the Hamas victory in last week's legislative elections, Olmert said he spoke over the weekend with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah II, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, French President Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"With all of them I found full support for our position and the principles that we have defined and which form the position of the Israeli government," he said.

Later, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a trip to Jerusalem, expressed support for Israel's position.

Olmert said Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke with world leaders as well.

"There is great importance in putting together a unified international position that will make clear to the Palestinians that it is impossible, under any circumstances, to accept a Palestinian Authority that part of it or more than that is an armed organization that calls for the destruction of Israel," he said.

Warning issued

Shaul Mofaz, Israel's defense minister, issued a warning to Hamas, which has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist attacks.

"Whoever stands at the head of a terror organization and continues to carry out terror attacks against Israel is not immune," Mofaz said. "If the Hamas turns to terror, it will be subject to an unprecedented attack by the state of Israel."

Hamas' victory triggered protests from members of Fatah, the party that has ruled Palestinian politics for four decades. Fatah protesters far outnumbered Palestinian security forces. Clashes also broke out between Fatah and Hamas members.

Conditions have been especially dire in Gaza, which has been gripped by chaos and lawlessness since Israel's historic pullout late last year.

"The developments in the Palestinian Authority are frustrating," said Israeli Cabinet Minister Tzahi Hanegbi. "We see clashes between rivals; we don't see true democracy.

"What we see is that the people gave power to an organization who is responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Israelis, and this does not leave much room for optimism in the next phase of the peace process," Hanegbi said.

Future of peace talks cloudy

The future of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts is unclear, with both Israel and Hamas insisting there will be no talks until key demands are met.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, the top Hamas official in Gaza, laid out a series of conditions Sunday that he said could lead to years of co-existence alongside Israel. The conditions included Israel's retreating to its pre-1967 borders and releasing Palestinian prisoners. (Full story)

Israel's political future is also up in the air. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke on January 4 altered the political landscape just as Israel was undergoing a seismic change of its own, with the creation of a new, centrist party led by Sharon.

Kadima -- meaning "forward" -- still hopes to win March elections. But the leader of the right-leaning Likud Party, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, could see a surge in popularity in the wake of the Hamas victory.

Netanyahu took aim at Olmert on Sunday, saying the acting prime minister's recent decisions to alter a portion of the controversial barrier separating Israel from the West Bank -- moving the barrier closer to one section of a major Israeli highway -- and to give tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority will now have the effect of bolstering Hamas.

"I call on Mr. Olmert to reverse his decisions to give money to the Hamas and to bring the Hamas close to Jerusalem," he said.

But Olmert, the interim head of Kadima, and other party officials deny suggestions that the party is inadequately tough on security.

"We are going to crack down on terrorists by all means," said Avi Dichter, former chief of Israel's Shin Bet secret service and a leading Kadima member.

"Hamas is fully aware of the fact that Israel has the ability, has the capability, has the knowledge and the people and therefore if they decide to go the Iranian channel, I'm not sure that they're going to reach any success," he said.

"I'm sure that they are going to crash after jumping from the cliff."

Israel argues that Iran is heavily supporting Hamas, but Hamas denied the allegation Sunday.

Germany: No aid until Hamas changes

Merkel said Sunday it is "unimaginable" that the European Union will support the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas renounces violence and accepts Israel's right to exist.

At a joint news conference with Olmert after a meeting in Jerusalem, Merkel said the militant group's election victory "means that continued cooperation will only be possible under three conditions: Hamas needs to recognize the existence of Israel; Hamas has to prove that the use of violence is out of the question; and Hamas needs to respect and accept steps in the peace process reached so far.

"This is the position we will take to the European Union and we will make sure that this signal is understood."

The European Union -- like the United States and Israel -- lists Hamas as a terrorist organization. The group has carried out numerous terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds of people. Its charter denies Israel's right to exist and calls for its destruction.

"If they do not accept our conditions they cannot be directly supported financially," Merkel said.

Germany has supported Israel over the years, partly as reparations following the Holocaust.

"There will always be special relationships between Israel and Germany that are resulting out of the Holocaust's singularity," Merkel said.

Merkel has excoriated Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for labeling the Holocaust a "myth" and calling for the destruction of Israel. Germany and other European nations share U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions -- although Tehran denies efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

"Iran is not just a threat to Israel but to all democratic countries in the world," she said.

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