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Israel shuns Sinn Fein leader over planned talks with Hamas lawmakers

Israel shuns Sinn Fein leader over planned talks with Hamas lawmakers

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams kicked off his first trip to the Holy Land Tuesday, seeking to encourage compromise between Israelis and their sworn enemies in Hamas,
But an Israeli government spokesman said Israeli officials said would boycott the Northern Ireland lawmaker's visit because he plans to meet members of the violent Islamic group.
Adams arrived in Israel Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday he is scheduled to meet in the West Bank city of Ramallah with officials of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' moderate Fatah Party and members of the Palestinian parliament, including elected members from Hamas, listed by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist organization.
He will not see Abbas, who is traveling in the Gulf.
Adams met Tuesday evening in Jerusalem with members of Palestinian and Israeli peace groups, but the doors of Israeli government offices will be closed to him.
Adams criticized the U.S. and European Union for cutting aid to the Palestinians after Hamas took over the government, reacting to the Islamic movements failure to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
The Western attitude is counterproductive, he said. "In the Irish peace process, the U.S. administration played a positive and encouraging role, and we would urge them to take a similar approach here," he said.
Regarding the refusal by Israeli officials to meet with him, he said: "I'm disappointed that the Israeli government has taken up the position that it has taken up. But I have to say they have been very helpful in facilitating this visit."
Asked if he would be counseling Hamas to renounce violence, he said, "It is our view that all conflict should be brought to an end though negotiations. That goes for everyone. ... If we're asked our view, we shall give our view, which is that all conflict should end."
"Sinn Fein doesn't have a special magic formula to resolve the problems here," Adams said. "We don't have any panacea, but we do believe that the problem can be resolved."
The visit, at the invitation of Abbas, is classed as a private trip and is not being organized by British officials here, a British Embassy official said. Adams said he will speak by telephone to Abbas, who is abroad.
Hamas defeated Fatah in legislative elections in January and controls the Palestinian government, although Abbas and Fatah retain the presidency and control most of the Palestinian security forces.
Adams, whose Irish Republican Army-linked party is the major representative of Northern Ireland's Catholic minority, said ahead of his trip that he wants to help provide inspiration for parties in other conflicts, following agreement to end decades of bloody fighting in his land.
The past 38 years of conflict over Northern Ireland has claimed more than 3,600 lives, but has largely abated since the IRA began a cease-fire in 1997.
The IRA, which was responsible for about 1,775 of the killings, last year renounced political violence and disarmed. But a central goal of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord _ a joint Catholic-Protestant administration for Northern Ireland that includes Sinn Fein _ has been on hold since 2002.
Adams, 58, was interned as an IRA suspect in the early 1970s and was a negotiator in an IRA delegation with Britain in 1972 . Despite this, he has always denied IRA membership. Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell says police intelligence indicates Adams remained on the IRA's seven-man command until last year.
As leader of Sinn Fein since 1983, Adams has steered the long-isolated party slowly into the political mainstream. His party in 2003 became the foremost among Catholics north of the border with the Republic of Ireland and is hoping to gain enough parliamentary seats inside the republic to help form the next coalition government there.
(pvs-scw/ml)