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EU, UN Ease Diplomatic Boycott
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The European Union and the United Nations eased their diplomatic boycott of the Palestinian government Wednesday, by agreeing to hold talks with non-Hamas ministers.

The contacts followed a meeting on Tuesday between a senior US diplomat and Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, an independent with close ties to the White House and President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction.

By holding the talks, the United States broke ranks with Israel, which has urged the international community to shun all members of the Palestinian unity cabinet that Hamas Islamists and Fatah established on Saturday.

EU Middle East envoy Marc Otte met Fayyad in the West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday, a day after talks in Gaza with Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, European and Palestinian officials said.

UN envoy Alvaro de Soto planned to see Fayyad later in the day, UN officials said.

In Berlin, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories at the end of March for a first-hand assessment of the new Palestinian administration.

"These are the first substantive contacts between the UN and the national unity government," a UN official said.

The meetings marked the re-establishment of at least limited engagement between the Palestinian government and the Quartet of Middle East mediators the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

"This is part of our endeavor to end the siege," Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa al-Barghouthi said, referring to a year-old ban by Western powers on direct aid to the Palestinian government.

US and Israeli officials say the edict, imposed after Hamas came to power in a January 2006 election, remains in place.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said France had sent an invitation to Abu Amr, an independent.

(China Daily via agencies March 22, 2007)

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