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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinian Leaders Close to a Unity Government

GAZA STRIP -- Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Monday that he was close to agreeing on a unity government with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, which Palestinians hope will lead to a lifting of Western sanctions.

"We are going ahead to form a national unity government," Haniyeh told players from the Palestinian national soccer team.

Palestinians hope the creation of a unity coalition will lead to the lifting of the sanctions imposed on the six-month-old Hamas government for refusing to recognize Israel. They also fear a return to the violent power struggle that followed the militant movement's defeat of Abbas' rival Fatah faction in January elections if the unity talks collapse.

Asked by reporters when an announcement of a unity government would be made, Haniyeh said: "Hopefully in the nearest time possible."

He described late-night talks on Sunday in the Gaza Strip with the moderate Abbas as "positive and fruitful."

Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, has so far resisted international pressure and calls by Abbas to soften its policy towards the Jewish state. But Fatah officials said Hamas' willingness to accept UN resolutions relating to the Lebanon conflict and decisions from previous Arab summits was a major breakthrough.

Acceptance would effectively mean recognizing the Jewish state. Hamas officials declined to comment, saying talks on such issues were continuing.

While Europe has backed efforts to form a unity government, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday that any new administration would have to accept explicit conditions for restoring aid: recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting interim peace deals.