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Palestinian rival factions agree to unity government

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NEW: Norway recognizes new government, says it will drop sanctions
Parliament votes 83-3 in favor of Hamas-Fatah coalition government
• Israel says it will not deal with the new unity government
• Palestinian PM insists on right to resistance "against Israeli occupation"
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GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Palestinian parliament members voted overwhelmingly to form a coalition government Saturday, the first forged between the rival Islamic Hamas and secular Fatah factions.

The unity government, approved by an 83 to 3 vote, was established after bloody fighting between the two groups killed more than 300 people in the past year.

Israel rejected the new government before it was even formed, objecting to remarks by hard-line Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya and to the unity government's refusal to recognize Israel's existence and renounce terror. (Watch why Palestinians consider unity 'good tidings' and Israel recoils)

Almost immediately after the vote, Norway recognized the new government.

"Norway welcomes the formation of the Palestinian unity government," said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store. "It is essential that the unity government gains control of the security situation in Gaza and the West Bank, and that the rocket attacks on Israeli areas cease."

The Norwegian government will drop all sanctions against the Palestinians, a spokesman for the Norwegian Office of Foreign Affairs told CNN.

Haniya said resistance "is a legitimate right for the Palestinian people, a right that has been guaranteed by all international resolutions and conventions. It is the right of our people to defend themselves against the Israeli occupation."

Historically, Haniya's Hamas party's use of the term "occupation" does not only refer to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and, previously, Gaza. The group uses the term to characterize Israel's existence, contending that the Jewish state occupies Palestine.

Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, reiterated Israel's rejection of the Palestinian government on Saturday, citing Haniya's remarks and the Hamas-led government's rejection of three positions sought by Israel -- recognition of the Jewish state, renunciation of terror, and abiding by agreements signed with Israel in the past.

"Sadly, this new government not only does not accept the three international principles, but also in the presentation in the last hour today, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya openly and repeatedly called for the right of resistance, which clearly means terror and violence by the Palestinians against Israel," Eisin said.

"Israel will not recognize or deal with this government or its members."

Abbas rejects 'all sorts of violence'

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a member of the Fatah movement who has met with Israeli officials, extended his "hand again for peace and equality" in his remarks to lawmakers.

"I would like to address the Israeli people and their government and their parties to say we are ready, we are prepared without any preconditions to go along the road of just peace by means of resuming negotiations between the government of Israel and the [Palestinian] leadership," Abbas said.

"We reject all sorts of violence and we look for an agreement, a solution that is based on negotiations," he said.

Palestinians hope a unity government will halt weeks of street clashes in Gaza and open the door to renewed international aid.

Although both factions agreed on a variety of terms, the new government's refusal to explicitly endorse Israel's right to exist may leave Western countries unwilling to embrace it.

Rice to visit Middle East next week

Next week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is slated to visit the Middle East to continue efforts for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

In addition to traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Rice is expected to meet with moderate Arab states in the region as part of her renewed push for peace.

The United States and Israel have shown renewed interest in a past Arab peace plan that gives Israel recognition by Arab states in exchange for a Palestinian state, as a way to boost prospects for a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

However, Israel is wary of provisions in the deal which would enable Palestinian refugees to return to Israel, which Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said "are against the concept of the two-state solution."

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Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, left, and President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands in Gaza on Saturday.



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