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(photo credit: AP)
Jerusalem pointedly did not respond Saturday to Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal's threats that Israel had six months to negotiate an agreement on a Palestinian State in Gaza and the West Bank or "face a third intifada."
"We don't have to comment on every remark this man says," a diplomatic official in Jerusalem said. "This is not the way we work."
For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here
The official said that Mashaal, with his contradictory statements, was trying to "drive the system nuts. On the one hand he wants to stress the positive, a willingness to negotiate, on the other he threatens another intifada. On the one hand he says that the release of [kidnapped soldier Gilad] Shalit is near, on the other hand he blames Israel that it has not taken place. We don't need to respond to this."
Mashaal's comments on Saturday were the strongest confirmation of a willingness to give Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas the chance to negotiate with Israel. But it was also the first time he has set a deadline with an explicit threat of new wave of violence.
"We give six months to open real political horizons ... we agreed on the national accord to establish a Palestinian state, with the June 4, 1967 borders," he said.
He warned that if an agreement is not reached within that time, "Hamas will become stronger and the resistance will resume ... and will go on with a third intifada."
Mashaal's comments suggested that Hamas would be willing to call a 6-month cease-fire for any talks and would accept a two-state solution, though he stopped short of using that phrase or recognizing Israel.
Mashaal spoke after three days of talks with Egyptian officials, including Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who are mediating an attempt put together a new Palestinian Authority government and secure the release of Gilad Shalit.
Mashaal, at a news conference, said the talks in Cairo would continue, but did not say for how long. He suggested there was no breakthrough on either the formation of a new, national unity government or on the release of Shalit.
Abbas has been trying to work out a package deal with Hamas that would include a prisoner swap, a comprehensive cease-fire and the creation of a more moderate government of professionals to replace the one led by Hamas.
Mashaal said "great strides" had been made in negotiations over a new Palestinian government. But he said "more time" was needed and stuck to Hamas' resistance to a Cabinet made up of technocrats rather than politicians from the two parties _ seen as a way to keep Hamas figures out of positions of influence.
"The issue is not a dispute over portfolios, it should be a Palestinian national unity government that represents Palestinian factions ... it should be political government," he said.
Hamas doesn't want a government of professionals with absolutely no political affiliation. It wants ministers from its ranks but has agreed they would not be well-known, first-tier politicians.
Mashaal also blamed Israel for the failure to reach a deal for the release of Shalit.
"We are not the reason behind postponing the decision; the postponing of a settlement is due to the other side," Mashaal said. He did not elaborate on what was holding up an agreement.
He said Shalit "is fine. He's in good health," adding mockingly, "He sends his regards."
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