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The Bush administration is in favor of the establishment of a "government of technocrats" in the Palestinian Authority in place of the current Hamas government, a senior American official told Israeli reporters yesterday. He said the U.S. is concerned about the lack of a Palestinian partner for peace talks with Israel, and expects a new Palestinian government to accept the conditions set by the Quartet (the United Nations, U.S., Russia and the European Union) - renouncing violence, recognizing the right of Israel to exist and upholding existing agreements.

The international community has stood steadfast by the Quartet's conditions, which the Hamas government has refused to accept, the official said. He added that it was a waste to invest time in setting up a new government that would not accept these principles.

Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, the official said the U.S. was fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself, but that a military strategy was not sufficient and had to be accompanied by a diplomatic component.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Richard Jones, and General Keith Dayton, the American security coordinator, met on Monday with Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the three agreed that the security arrangements at the Karni and Rafiah crossing points would be improved, in an effort to better economic conditions in Gaza. The senior American official also said that Washington expected a positive response from Israel to Dayton's proposal to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas' "presidential guard." The issue was raised by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her recent visit to Jerusalem, and the Americans are awaiting a final response from Israel before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington next week. The Dayton plan reportedly includes the transfer of thousands of guns from Egypt to Abbas' presidential guard as well as the deployment in the Gaza Strip of the Palestinians' Badr Brigade, which is currently based in Jordan.