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Despite Hamas's landslide victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not meet Hamas representatives during her 24-hour visit to the region Sunday, a move welcomed by Israeli diplomatic officials.
Merkel, scheduled to arrive Sunday for her first visit to the Middle East, is to go to Ramallah Monday afternoon but is only scheduled to meet there with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, a spokesman at the German embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed Saturday night.
Merkel's spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told reporters in Berlin that "our partner in dialogue is not Hamas, but Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian territories." He said that Merkel will relay to Abbas the European Union demand that Hamas give up violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.
"The right of Israel to exist must be recognized without ifs or buts. All forms of violence must be renounced and weapons must be laid down. All agreements within the scope of the peace process must be adhered to," he said.
This position was applauded in Jerusalem, with one diplomatic official saying that it indicated that despite Hamas's victory, Germany's policy toward the organization had not changed.
Wilhelm's statement also reflected the official line of the European Union and the Quartet. The Quartet issued a statement late Thursday night saying, "There is a fundamental contradiction between armed group and militia activities and the building of a democratic state. A two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel's right to exist, and disarm, as outlined in the Roadmap."
Merkel will be the first head of state to visit since Hamas won Wednesday's election, and will also be the first head of state to visit since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered his stroke.
Merkel is scheduled to meet Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and then hold a joint press conference with him. During her visit she will also meet President Moshe Katsav, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Labor party head Amir Peretz, and Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu. She is also scheduled to visit Yad Vashem.
In addition to focusing on the new situation created by Hamas's victory, Merkel's discussions in Israel are also expected to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue.