Palestinian Talks With Israel OK'd

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, adjusts his glasses during a news conference, Monday, June 5, 2006. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer) AP

Hamas officials on Tuesday gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the go-ahead for negotiations with Israel, a major shift in the militant Islamic group's position toward the Jewish state as it worked to end its international isolation.

As Palestinian officials pushed ahead with efforts to form a national unity government, an Israeli military court ordered the release of 19 Hamas officials — including Cabinet ministers and lawmakers — from an Israeli prison.

The men, arrested by Israel following the June 25 capture of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit by Hamas-linked militants, will remain behind bars for several more days pending an appeal by prosecutors.

Israeli officials said the court decision was not meant to reward Hamas for its moves toward moderation.

"I don't think that right now we would be making gestures of goodwill for the Hamas. We would be making gestures of goodwill to Abu Mazen," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said, referring to the moderate Abbas by his nickname. Eisin said the courts were independent of the government.

In other developments:

  • Gunmen from the ruling Hamas movement ambushed an Israeli soldier at close range, as troops searched for weapons smuggling tunnels in Gaza, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. It was the first Israeli fatality since Israel launched an ongoing offensive in Gaza more than two months ago. The offensive was sparked by the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, who is still being held by Hamas gunmen in Gaza. So far, negotiations for a prisoner swap have failed to achieve results.

  • Tanks, artillery trucks and other equipment for French peacekeepers rolled off a cargo ship Tuesday in Beirut to help them monitor a U.N.-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, a spokesman said. French forces were deploying throughout the week in Lebanon in an enhanced deployment for the 28-year-old U.N. peacekeeping force in the south of the country.

  • Hungary's parliament would be willing to back the deployment in Lebanon of a small contingent of doctors and border guards, lawmakers said Tuesday. Hungary has opposed sending troops to Lebanon because it already has reached its limit of around 1,000 soldiers available for international peacekeeping missions and because of the risk that troops in Lebanon could be involved in combat situations.

    Hamas, whose ideology calls for Israel's destruction, reached agreement Monday with Abbas' Fatah Party to form a unity government in an effort to end the financial crisis crippling the Palestinian economy. International donors cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority when Hamas formed its Cabinet six months ago. Hamas is listed as a terror group by Israel and the West.

    Israel says the new Palestinian government could be a positive development if it renounces violence and recognizes the Jewish state. But that's unlikely to happen, reports . Hamas officials say they won't recognize Israel, a state the group seeks to destroy. The new government's platform is based on a document which legitimizes attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. Israel says that's a non-starter.
    • Lloyd Vries

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