A Palestinian reconciliation deal signed between rival factions Fatah and Hamas is the result of recent Mideast unrest, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday, adding he feared Hamas would eventually take over the West Bank.

The rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas came to a historic agreement on Wednesday, when they announced a decision to reconcile and form an interim government ahead of elections, after a four-year feud. Both sides hailed the agreement as a chance to start a fresh page in their national history.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official who participated in the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, said Wednesday that the interim Palestinian government would not be able to hold peace negotiations with Israel.

Lieberman told Army Radio of his fears that Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, would eventually take over the Palestinian Authority-ruled West Bank as well, making use of Hamas activists freed by Fatah as part of the new agreement.

 

"One of the clauses of the agreement is the release of hundreds of Hamas prisoners from Palestinian jails, which would flood the West Bank with armed terrorists, and the IDF must prepare accordingly," Lieberman said.

He said that "the agreement between Hamas and Fatah was born out of panic," and speculated that the move was a reaction to the recent turmoil in much of the Middle East.

The foreign minister added that he felt Hamas had been placed under pressure by recent unrest in its key ally Syria, saying that Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshal "sees his patron, Syrian President Bashar Assad, shooting up the mosques and is distressed by the riots."

"On the other side, [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas, who has been relying for years on ousted Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak is fears that the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas' parent group, will take power and he would lose his support," Lieberman said.

Regarding a possible backlash to the deal, Lieberman said he expected the international community to respond accordingly, saying: "This agreement crosses a red line, Hamas has been defined as a terrorist organization by the Quartet since 2003 in addition to the fact that it has always been known that no talks can be held with groups calling for Israel's destruction."

 

The foreign minister also donwplayed any expectation that the new agreement would impact on ongoing and as yet unsuccessful efforts to secure the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, saying it was "naïve to think that it would affect Hamas' position on Shalit."