Russia called on Wednesday for an easing of pressure on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority but the United States said an aid embargo must remain in place until the Palestinians meet conditions set out by western powers.
"I hope that the Quartet will favor a lifting of the financial and economic sanctions which were imposed by Israel. That will be the position of Russia, the European Union and the UN Secretary-General," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the Rossiskaya Gazeta newspaper.Underlining differences prior to a meeting in Berlin to discuss Hamas and its new coalition with Fatah, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said conditions drawn up by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators were still valid.
The Quartet, comprising Russia, the United States, European Union and United Nations, said a year ago after Hamas won general elections that any Palestinian government must meet three conditions - renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by past Israeli-Palestinian accords.
"I think it is clear why the quartet principles which we settled on a year ago are still so critically important to progress with peace," Rice said at a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
"Those are not principles that are put there to be an obstacle, they are put there because they are foundational for peace," said Rice.
Russia has been reticent about maintaining the aid embargo that has been in place since Hamas won the elections and has urged a softening of the quartet's stance.
The Quartet has officially taken a wait-and-see approach towards the coalition until more details are known but Washington has made clear it will only have contact with a unity government that meets the quartet conditions.
EU sees Mecca deal as half full glassEuropeans, however, appear to favor a softer line and see the new Palestinian coalition as a solution which can avert civil war between competing factions.
An EU official said foreign ministers from the 27-member bloc are inclined to see the Mecca agreement as "a glass half full, rather than half empty."
Rice is to report back to the Quartet on a summit she hosted in Jerusalem on Monday between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The Jerusalem summit made little apparent progress in pushing the peace process forward except for a promise from the two leaders to meet again soon.
Steinmeier said it was important the Quartet speak "with one voice" and help revive the peace process.
"We cannot yet judge the results but we can consider it progress that they are talking directly with each other. It is a first step," the German foreign minister said.
Abbas is due to visit Germany on Friday to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel to explain the new government deal.
Hamas has said it hopes Washington and the rest of the quartet will soften their position. Arab nations such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which helped broker the deal in Mecca, also believe the government should be given a chance.