Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh over the weekend called on the PLO to withdraw its recognition of Israel’s right to exist in response to Israel’s opposition to the reconciliation deal between his movement and Fatah.

Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza City that there was no justification for recognizing Israel’s right to exist, in wake of its “denial of the rights and unity of the Palestinian people.”

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Israel’s presence “on our land is illegitimate and we can’t recognize it,” he said.

He also ruled out the possibility that Israel would be able to thwart the unity deal, which was reached in Cairo last week.

“We are moving in a way that serves the interests of our people, and we don’t care much about the Israeli positions,” Haniyeh said.

“Sincere intentions and a positive atmosphere would ensure the success of the reconciliation accord.”

Ahmed Bahr, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ignore Israeli and American “threats” made in light of the unity agreement.

“The Israeli and American threats – especially those calling for cutting off financial aid – have no practical or political value,” Bahr said.

The best way to confront the threats was by pursuing efforts to achieve unity among the Palestinians, he said.

Hamas, meanwhile,announced that it would participate in the planned presidential election. The Hamas- Fatah agreement calls for parliamentary and presidential elections within a year, following the formation of an interim unity government.

Hamas Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar was quoted over the weekend as saying that his movement expected to field a presidential candidate.

“In an election, everyone has the right to run,” Zahar said. “This is a natural right.

We believe we will have our candidate in this election.”

If true, it would be the first time Hamas participates in a Palestinian presidential election.

In January 2006, Hamas candidates ran only in the parliamentary (Palestinian Legislative Council) election, and won a majority.

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