Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah assured foreign diplomats on Tuesday that his new unity government would respect past agreements with Israel, after chairing the cabinet's first meeting.
The new 17-member cabinet was sworn in on Monday before president Mahmud Abbas, in line with a surprise reconciliation deal reached in April between Hamas, which has governed the Gaza Strip for seven years, and the PLO, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
"Hamdallah stressed that the government is committed to all international agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation ... international political initiatives and peaceful solutions," his office said.
Hamdallah was briefing European Union representatives to the Palestinian territories on his new government, also telling them his cabinet would focus on providing services and resolving pressing water issues in the Gaza Strip.
He later gave UN peace envoy Robert Serry the same assurances, adding the government's "main mission is to prepare for free and democratic elections," a separate statement said.
After chairing the new cabinet's first meeting, Hamdallah told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah the "main subject the government discussed was how to reunite the institutions in the West Bank and Gaza."
"Employees were asked to return to work," he said, referring to people from Abbas's Fatah party who worked in Gaza-based government ministries before the Hamas assumed the administration of the territory in 2007.
"The government is committed to the principle of the two states on the border of 1967. The government is also committed to recognising the State of Israel, renouncing violence and honouring the signed agreements," he said on Monday.
"As we have stated in the past, we will continue with security coordination with Israel as this protects our people's interests."
- International welcome -
The international community hailed the reconciliation, with the EU saying it created "new opportunities for the peace process, for democratic renewal and for the Palestinian people in both Gaza and the West Bank".
In New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman also welcomed the unity government.
"The United Nations stands ready to lend its full support to the newly formed government in its effort to reunite the West Bank and Gaza... under one legitimate Palestinian authority," Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
France also said it was "ready to work" with the new government "as long as it rejects violence, is committed to the peace process and respects all previous agreements, which implies recognising Israel," comments echoed by Britain.
Russia urged the international community to welcome the Palestinian cabinet "with respect."
Washington has also agreed to work with the new government, prompting a furious reaction from Israel, which had urged the international community not to rush into recognising the new entity.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to Europe dealing with the unity government.
Al Ray contributed to this report.