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Merkel urges Israel to continue with the Mideast peace process

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Israel to continue with the Middle East peace process, after Benjamin Netanyahu is sworn in as the country's new Prime Minister.

Portrait of Benjamin Netanyahu standing in front of a blown-up photograph of Benjamin Netanyahu

The election of Netanyahu has raised fears of a harder line in talks with the Palestinians

In a congratulatory message to Netanyahu on Wednesday, Angela Merkel pressed Israel's new Prime Minister to advance the peace process with the Palestinians and usher in a two-state solution.

"I hope you will manage to achieve decisive progress towards a two-state solution," she said.

Netanyahu was sworn in on Tuesday after his right-wing Likud party managed to form a coalition after a Feb. 10 election. The parliament backed the appointments by a vote of 69 to 45 with five abstentions.

Aside from Likud, Netanyahu's cabinet also includes the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party led by Israel's new foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose stance on Israeli Arabs has stoked international concern. The ultra-Orthodox Sha party and the center-left Labour party are represented as well.

No mention of a Palestinian state

In a speech to the Knesset, the 120-seat parliament, Netanyahu vowed to continue seeking peace with the Palestinians, but he also hit out at Iran and "extremist Islam" for threatening the existence of the Jewish state.

While Netanyahu said peace with the Palestinians was possible, he made no mention of a future Palestinian state -- a key demand of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and backed by Washington.

The coalition pact binding the various parties in peace talks -- which are currently frozen -- contains a pledge to respect Israel's international agreements. That formula includes accords on a Palestinian state.

Avigdor Lieberman delivers a speech at his party's headquarters in Jerusalem.

Lieberman said the Annapolis declaration had "no validity"

Palestinian officials have said Netanyahu must clearly endorse statehood for peace talks to succeed.

In a statement which could cause tension with Washington, Israel's new foreign minister, the ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman, said that Israel is not bound by a US-sponsored agreement to work for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Speaking at a handover ceremony at the foreign ministry on Wednesday, Lieberman said neither the Israeli government nor parliament had ratified the 2007 Annapolis agreement.

However Lieberman did say that Israel was bound to follow a 2003 "road map" which requires Palestinian attacks on Israel to be curbed before talks on the final shape of a Palestinian state take place.

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