U.N. envoy, EU commission chief voice support for Palestinian unity govt

Robert Serry’s visit to Gaza on Sunday came despite Israeli appeals to the international community to shun the unity government

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A top U.N. envoy has met with four ministers of the new Palestinian unity government in the formerly Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, assuring them of United Nations support, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told an Israeli security conference on Sunday that Palestinian unity deal with the Islamist Hamas movement must be supported.

“In the interest of a future peace deal and of a legitimate and representative government, intra-Palestinian reconciliation... should be supported,” Barroso told delegates at a conference in the coastal city of Herzliya.

Betting on peace

Barroso also called on Israel and the Palestinians to find the “political courage” to take decisive steps “to bet on peace.”

Robert Serry, the U.N.'s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, visited Gaza on Sunday, despite Israeli appeals to the international community to shun the unity government, which is backed by rival groups Hamas and Fatah.

The West considers Hamas a terror group but appears to have accepted assurances by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, that the new Cabinet will follow his non-violent program.

Serry, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon’s envoy to the region, was the first senior international official to meet with unity government members in Gaza. Serry promised more U.N. development aid in Gaza and called for lifting a Gaza border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt.

Palestinians summon Australian diplomat

In a related story, the Palestinian foreign ministry on Sunday summoned Australia’s diplomatic representative after a top judicial official said Canberra would no longer refer to annexed east Jerusalem as “occupied,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Last week, Australian attorney general George Brandis sparked Palestinian fury by saying Canberra would not use such “judgmental language” to describe an area which was the subject of negotiations.

Israel hailed the remarks as “refreshing,” but the Palestinian leadership denounced them as “disgraceful and shocking,” with the ministry making a formal diplomatic protest on Sunday.

“The Palestinian foreign ministry summoned the Australian representative Thomas Wilson over the recent comments by the Australian attorney general asking to stop referring to east Jerusalem as occupied territories,” a ministry statement said.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, foreign minister al-Malki said he was “worried” about the remarks which contravened the position of the international community.

He demanded that Canberra “give an official clarification of its position on east Jerusalem in the next few days.”

Radical change

Describing it as a “radical change in the Australian position on Palestine,” Malki said the shift was made clear in a January interview with an Israeli website given by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in which she questioned whether Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land were illegal.

Israel seized east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

The Palestinians claim Arab east Jerusalem as the capital of their promised state.

The international community views all Israeli construction on land seized in 1967, including the West Bank, as illegal and a major obstacle to a negotiated peace agreement.

“Palestine is a state and its capital is under occupation, something that the United Nations and all its bodies are agreed on,” Malki said.

(With AP and AFP)