France gives cautious welcome to Palestinian unity deal

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Tuesday's signing of a Palestinian reconciliation deal is a step in the right direction, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said, insisting however that Hamas must recognise Israel and renounce violence.

"Everything that helps reconcile organisations, formations that represent to a greater or lesser degree their people is going in the right direction," Juppe said after 13 Palestinian factions signed the much-anticipated deal in Cairo.

Signatory factions after over 18 months of talks include Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Western-backed Fatah party and its bitter rival the Islamist Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

"This reconciliation must be done with respect for a certain number of principles that seem essential to us," Juppe said.

"We expect Hamas to recognise Israel's existence and integrity and for it to stop all references to using violence as a means of political action.

"I hope that this reconciliation process will help move forward in this direction. This is not entirely the case today."

Among the first tasks facing the newly united factions is the formation of a government and the establishment of a higher security council tasked with examining ways to integrate Hamas and Fatah's rival security forces.

The accord also calls for the creation of an electoral tribunal and for the release of a number of prisoners held by the rival movements in jails in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israel has vehemently criticised the deal because of its perception that it strengthens Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organisation.

© 2011 AFP

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