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U.S., Canada close door on Hamas

Countries say new government must meet international demands

From Elise Labott
CNN

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Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, left, and Mahmoud Abbas after the swearing in.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the day Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and his 24-member Cabinet were sworn in to take the Palestinian helm, the United States and Canada on Wednesday formally cut ties with the government.

U.S. diplomats and contractors were already expressly forbidden from contact with Hamas, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, adding that the new order was necessary to avoid any confusion, because the U.S. still has contact with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We are now in a period of transition and change from a Palestinian Authority that was committed to seeking a two-state solution, seeking peace with Israel via negotiation, to a Hamas-led government which does not," McCormack said.

The militant organization came to power via a landslide victory in January's Palestinian elections. Though the organization runs a network of social and charitable organizations for Palestinians, it refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel's right to exist. (Watch how two new governments will play out in the Middle East -- 1:58)

The U.S., Israel and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist group and say it must reverse its stances on violence and Israel. The United States and Canada say Hamas must also abide by past Palestinian agreements to seek a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has delivered an ultimatum, which he reiterated at a victory rally for his Kadima party after Israeli elections Tuesday, stating that Israel's borders will be defined in the next four years, with or without Palestinian input. Olmert's current plan is to evacuate small Jewish settlements in the West Bank and annex the larger ones.

Though there have been few signs that the Hamas-led government is ready for fruitful talks with Israel, Haniyeh said Wednesday that Palestinians were not averse to all negotiations with their neighbors.

After being sworn in as Palestinian prime minister, Haniyeh gave Abbas his blessing to negotiate with Israel, according to the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

"If the PA chairman, as the elected president, wants to jumpstart talks, we have no objection to it," the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz quoted Haniyeh as saying. "If whatever (Abbas) presents to the people as a result of the negotiations serves our interests, then we will also redefine our position."

U.S. order toughened

The existing U.S. "no contact" order forbade diplomats from dealing with groups deemed to be terrorist organizations. It also required all contractors receiving U.S. funding to sign pledges promising they would have no contact with such groups. Audits are conducted to make sure they keep their word.

The State Department issued a travel warning February 27, banning all U.S. government employees from traveling in the West Bank or Gaza except on "mission-critical business."

The warning said American employees of the embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel, and the consulate in Jerusalem, were not allowed to use public transportation or patronize discos or nightclubs.

Wednesday's beefed-up order does not prohibit contact with Abbas or non-Hamas members of the Palestinian Parliament.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay on Wednesday said his country was cutting ties with the Palestinian government because it hasn't "addressed the concerns raised by Canada and others concerning nonviolence, the recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the road map for peace."

However, International Cooperation Minister Josee Verner added that Canada remains committed to a two-state solution and will continue to provide some assistance to Palestinians.

"Working with our partners and through the United Nations, its agencies and other organizations, Canada will continue to support and respond to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people," Verner said.

The United States, too, is reviewing its aid programs to the Palestinians, and McCormack emphasized Wednesday that Hamas will not receive any U.S. funding.

"We're looking at ways that we can increase humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people," McCormack said. "On the other hand, we've said it before, and I'll reiterate it, that we are not going to provide funds to a terrorist organization."

McCormack was asked Monday about Haniyeh stating he was ready for dialogue with the Quartet, made up of the U.S., the EU, Russia and the United Nations.

"The onus is now on Hamas," McCormack responded. "But in terms of dialogue, Hamas needs to meet the conditions laid out by the international community."

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