Palestinian prime minister urges calm

Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, has called for calm and vowed that his Hamas government would restore order after clashes between his faction and Fatah activists.

    Haniya urged Palestinians to respect the law

    "I call on the Palestinian people for calm and to respect the law," Haniya told a news conference at the health ministry in Gaza City on Monday.

    Clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen on Sunday left four people wounded.

    "The government intends to restore order, the law and end all  acts that give the Palestinians a bad image and which target public sector employees," Haniya added.

    Long-running political tensions between Hamas and the former ruling Fatah faction descended into violence in the Palestinian territories at the weekend.

    Apart from unrest in Gaza City, Fatah loyalists on Sunday stormed the council offices in the West Bank city of Nablus, a Hamas-run municipality.

    Unrest flared after Khalid Mishaal, Hamas' leader, effectively accused Mahmud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and a Fatah member, of plotting against the Hamas government that took power last month.

    His ire had been stoked by Abbas' vetoing of a Hamas decision to create a new special force of fighters led by a wanted resistance fighter.

    Norway offer
    Meanwhile, the Norwegian government has said that it would be prepared to meet Hamas representatives in the future despite recent pressure from the US to sever all links with the Palestinian Authority.

    Tensions between Fatah and
    Hamas loyalists have escalated

    Jonas Gahr Stoere, the foreign minister, told public radio NRK: "I would not rule out that it would be natural in the future (to  meet) at the governmental level. I believe in dialogue."

    "There will certainly be a chance for this, and it's something I  hope for," he said.

    Stoere did tie the possibility of talks to demands that Hamas recognise Israel and renounce violence.

    The Norwegian stance comes on the heels of Washington's demands that the Norwegian foreign ministry not meet with two Hamas representatives scheduled to visit Oslo on May 15.

    The pair will be in Norway at the invitation of the Norwegian Palestinian Committee.

    US position

    After some uncertainty last week, the Norwegian government decided it would meet Salah Bardawil and Mohammed al-Rantissi, Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament, at the level of high-ranking civil servants.

    "The foreign minister expressed his respect for the position of  the United States. At the same time he maintained that it would be unreasonable not to meet the Hamas representatives if they come to Norway," the foreign ministry said.

    Hamas is on the European Union and the United States lists of terrorist organisations, and as a result both have cut all links to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

    Cabinet split

    Norway, which brokered the now-defunct Oslo accords in 1993, uses the United Nations list of terrorist organisations, which does not include Hamas.

    The Middle East is a thorny issue for Norway's coalition government.

    The Labour Party tends to adopt a neutral approach, while its coalition ally, the Socialist Left Party, is traditionally pro-Palestinian.

    Norway has not officially suspended direct aid to the  Palestinian government, and no such aid had been due to be sent since Hamas took power.

    But the country has said that any resumption of such support would be difficult under the current situation.

    Abbas is due in Norway on Wednesday.



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