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Israel responds to Palestinian unity deal by suspending peace talks

Israel has announced that it is suspending peace talks with the Palestinians after a deal between Fatah and Hamas. The rival factions hope to form a unity government in the coming weeks.

The suspension of the Mideast peace talks was announced in a statement released by the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday.

"The Cabinet this evening decided unanimously that the government of Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that leans on Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel," the statement read.

"In addition, Israel will take a number of measures in response to the PA's (Palestinian Authority) unilateral moves," read the statement, released after a six-hour Cabinet meeting.

The Israeli decision appeared to end a Mideast peace initiative launched by US Secretary of State John Kerry nine months ago.

Kerry said he believed there was a way forward to brokering a peace deal, even after the suspension of talks, but that it depended on the parties involved.

"We will never give up our hope or our commitment for the possibilities of peace," Kerry said. "We believe it is the only way to go, but right now obviously it's at a very difficult point, and the leaders themselves have to make decisions."

'National consensus government'

The announcement came a day after the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Fatah's President Mahmoud Abbas,

reached an agreement with the Islamist militant group Hamas

to end years of division by forming a "national consensus" government. Under the deal, the two sides aim to form a unity government within five weeks and hold national elections in six months.

Hamas, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, seized the

Gaza Strip

from forces loyal to Abbas back in 2007. It has ruled the territory since then, with Fatah and the PLO controlling the West Bank. A number of previous attempts at reconciliation have failed.

Later on Thursday, Netanyahu used an interview with a US broadcaster to urge the Palestinian president to nullify his agreement with Hamas - in the name of peace.

"He (Abbas) still has the opportunity to reverse the course ... to abandon this pact. I hope he does it," Netanyahu told NBC. "Because if we encounter a Palestinian leadership and a Palestinian government that is ready to pursue genuine peace negotiations, we are going to be there. I am going to be there."

pfd/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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