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Foreign governments push Hamas to renounce violence

PARIS -- World leaders squirmed with unease at the prospect of a Hamas-led Palestinian government and immediately started pressuring the Islamic militants yesterday to recognize Israel and renounce violence as a precondition for ties.

Israel, the United States, and the European Union have said they would not deal with a government led by Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings, seeks Israel's destruction, and has said it opposes peace talks and will not disarm. Both the United States and the EU list Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US position on Hamas has not changed despite the election outcome.

''You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror," she said at an international conference in Davos, Switzerland, via a telephone hookup from Washington. ''Our position on Hamas has, therefore, not changed."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said any group that participates in a democratic process should ''ultimately disarm." Otherwise, he said, there was a ''fundamental contradiction."

Italy said the militant group's resounding -- and surprising -- victory in legislative elections Wednesday could indefinitely postpone any chance of Israeli-Palestinian peace and make the creation of a Palestinian state more difficult. ''It is a very, very, very bad result," Italian news agencies quoted Premier Silvio Berlusconi as saying.

Concern crossed political divides, with traditional supporters of the Palestinian cause -- like Italy's center-left opposition -- among those expressing concern.

In the Arab world, some were jubilant. Hamas's win topped the news on state-run radio in Iran, which is accused by Israel and the United States of supplying Hamas and other Palestinian militants with weapons and funding.

''This is a victory to all the region's free people," said Ayyoub Muhanna, 29, who owns a spare-parts shop in Lebanon. ''The Palestinians gave their vote to the party that gave of its blood."

Sweden's foreign minister, Laila Freivalds, said Hamas's showing was ''a protest against those in power who have not done enough, a reaction to the incapacity to lead the political process forward."

The dilemma for Western democracies was compounded by Hamas's seemingly fair-and-square win -- American monitors led by Jimmy Carter said the elections were ''completely honest, completely fair, completely safe, and without violence."

Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said the international community ''has the responsibility to accept" the election results, but he added that ''Hamas has a clear responsibility to understand that with democracy goes a rejection of violence."

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain was blunter: ''We can only do business with people who renounce terrorism."

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