SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) - President Moshe Katsav on Sunday sharply criticized the Palestinians' Hamas-led government, saying it had made the rift with Israel "deeper than ever."'
Katsav said Hamas's refusal to denounce violence and to endorse past peace agreements would force Israel to take unilateral actions to secure peace.
"Israel wants to negotiate with the Palestinians to reach a final solution of the conflict," Katsav told reporters in Sofia after meeting Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov. "But as long as Hamas continues to support terror, refuses to recognize Israel and defies commitments made by Yasser Arafat and [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas, Israel has to find alternative ways to protect its citizens."
Katsav said the plan by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for partial withdrawal from the West Bank and unilaterally drawing Israel's border with the Palestinians was "a concept that is still being developed."
Olmert was to begin a European tour later Sunday aimed at drumming up international support for his realignment plan. Europe, the United States and moderate Arab states have pressed Olmert to try negotiations with Abbas before taking unilateral steps.
Katsav was also critical of the move by Abbas to schedule a referendum for July 26 on the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, saying it would not help achieve peace.
"I doubt that this referendum would do anything to solve the tensions within the Palestinian society," he said, adding that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hinged on resolving internal battles between Abbas and Hamas.
"If the forces of reason led by Abbas win, peace will come soon," Katsav said. "If destructive forces win, I am afraid tensions will escalate further."
Katsav, who is in Sofia on a two-day official visit, also thanked the Bulgarian people "for saving its Jewish community from Nazi death camps during World War II."
Bulgaria was an ally of Nazi Germany during the war, but nationwide protests led by Bulgarian lawmakers and Orthodox Christian clergymen prevented the deportation of any Jews, saving all the country's 48,000 Jews.
About 45,000 of Bulgaria's Jews emigrated to Israel after 1948, and Bulgaria's Jewish community now numbers about 6,000, most of whom live in Sofia.