Palestinian leaders on Tuesday urged the world to accept a planned unity government they hope will lead to the lifting of an aid embargo on the Hamas administration.

Speaking after a Hamas meeting, Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, said: "The world should respect the will of the people whether it's a national unity government or a government of one colour."

Haniya, who is also a Hamas leader, and Mahmoud Abbas, the president and Fatah leader, agreed to form a unity government on Monday.

David Welch, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said: "Washington would only deal with a new unity government if it met three conditions laid down by the quartet of Middle East mediators: Renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by past Israeli-Palestinian accords.

"We have not seen all the details [of the new government] and we are taking a look, a close look at it. To the extent that we understand this so far, it does not meet the standard," he said.

EU optimism

The EU's reaction has been warmer, signalling it believed that a unity government could re-energise negotiations in the Middle East.

Western diplomats believe that the EU may settle for less than the quartet has demanded. The quartet consists of the UN, EU, US and Russia.

"Yesterday's announcement of a government of national unity in Palestine is precisely what I hoped for"

Tony Blair,
British Prime Minister

Returning from a three-day trip to the Middle East, Tony Blair, the British prime minister, on Tuesday urged the lifting of international economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority, so long as a deal on a cabinet of national unity meets with international standards.

"Yesterday's announcement of a government of national unity in Palestine is precisely what I hoped for.

"On the basis it is faithful to the conditions spelled out by the quartet, we should lift the economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority."