Invite comes as Livni holds talks with UK Prime Minister Blair.
By HERB KEINON
Even as Foreign Ministry Tzipi Livni was in London Thursday trying to cement an international front against legitimizing Hamas, cracks in the wall appeared elsewhere, as South Africa announced it would host a Hamas delegation for talks.
A Hamas spokesman in Gaza announced the invitation, but gave no timetable for the visit. The South African Foreign Ministry confirmed the visit. A Hamas delegation has already gone to Turkey, is scheduled to arrive in Russia on Friday, and has been invited to Venezuela.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev responded to the South African invitation by saying that Israel supported the three benchmarks the international community articulated were necessary in order for Hamas to gain international legitimacy: recognize Israel, accept all previous agreements with Israel, and unequivocally renounce terror.
"We believe that if the international community speaks with one voice and gets a unified message across there will be pressure on Hamas to change, but if they receive legitimacy prior to accepting those benchmarks, then their possible motivation for change will have eroded," Regev said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Hamas leaders would ask for South African economic and political support.
This is the second time in a month that South Africa's actions have raised eyebrows in Jerusalem. Last month South Africa was one of only five countries that abstained and three that voted against a resolution at the 35-member International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meeting that voted to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.
Livni, meanwhile, met Thursday at 10 Downing Street with British Prime Minister Tony Blair for some 30 minutes and reiterated Israel's position regarding Hamas and the need for the international community to cut off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas would not accept the world's conditions. She also met with Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, who was filling in for an ill Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
Livni raised with Howells the issue of IDF officers unable to go to Britain because of the fear that they would be held and tried on war crimes charges.
Howells, according to Livni's office, said that this was a "common problem" for the two countries, and that Britain would look for a way to quickly solve the problem in the near future.
London was the last stop on a two-day, three city tour that also took Livni and her message to isolate Hamas to Vienna and Paris.
Britain has responded cautiously to Hamas' victory, saying it was bound to respect the outcome of a democratic election but that Hamas now has a responsibility to disavow violence and recognize Israel.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said future decisions on funding "will be taken in light of what decisions Hamas takes."
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned in an interview published Thursday that al-Qaida had spread to the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its operations there could have dire consequences for the entire region.
Abbas said Palestinian security forces haven't captured any al-Qaida operatives but had evidence they were in the territories. "We have signs of an al-Qaida presence in the West Bank and Gaza," Abbas told the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, without elaborating. "The infiltration of al-Qaida can ruin the whole region."
Jordan's King Abdullah also has said al-Qaida has set up terror cells in Israel.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded to Abbas' comments by saying that Israel was "monitoring, attempts by international terrorist elements to infiltrate areas close to us."
Olmert, speaking at a press conference after meeting President Moshe Katsav, said "Islamic Jihad and Hamas are also part of the global terrorist movement, and have always received support and assistance from international terrorist elements, thus the ability to discern a link between terrorist elements in the territories and international terrorism is neither surprising nor new. We are monitoring such matters and this constitutes a main part of our war against the terrorist organizations."
AP contributed to this report
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