Abbas and Erekat in Ramallah - AFP - 28.4.2011
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas with his peace negotiator Saeb Erakat. Photo by AFP
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signaled on Thursday that peace talks with Israel would still be possible during the term of a new interim government formed as part of a unity deal with Hamas.

Abbas said the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) which he heads and to which Hamas does not belong, would still be responsible for "handling politics, negotiations".

He was speaking for the first time since the unity deal was unveiled in Cairo on Wednesday.

A senior Hamas leader said negotiations would not be part of the program of the new government to be formed as part of the agreement. Israel rejects any talks with Hamas, whose charter calls for its destruction.

Abbas also told reporters on Thursday that he would soon announce the unity cabinet's makeup, one which he would have to approve, adding that that government would work according to guidelines set by him.

The Palestinian Authority President sidestepped a Haaretz question on whether or not he intended to free Hamas prisoners jailed by the Palestinian Authority, saying  that the PA's jails housed only those who broke the law and not political prisoners.

An official unity agreement signing ceremony is scheduled to take place in Cairo next Wednesday.

Abbas' comments came after earlier Wednesday, Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader who participated in the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas, said on that the interim Palestinian government would not be able to work on peace negotiations with Israel.

Zahar said the newly formed deal covered five points, including combining security forces and forming a government made up of "nationalist figures".

"Our program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognizing it," Zahhar said in Cairo. "It will not be possible for the interim national government to participate or bet on or work on the peace process with Israel."

Israel has said that the accord, which was brokered in secrecy by Egypt, would not secure peace in the Middle East and urged Abbas to carry on shunning the Islamist movement, which has governed the Gaza Strip since 2007 after ousting Fatah in a civil war.

Forging Palestinian unity is regarded as crucial to reviving any prospect for an independent Palestinian state, but Western powers have always refused to deal with Hamas because of its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

"We have agreed to form a government composed of independent figures that would start preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections," said Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of Fatah's negotiating team in Cairo.

"Elections would be held in about eight months from now," he said, adding the Arab League would oversee the implementation of the agreement.