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Israel warns Abbas that a Hamas tie would end talks

AMMAN -- Israel warned yesterday it would stop dealing with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if he goes ahead with plans to join Hamas in a new government, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Arab allies sought a way to break the Hamas logjam and push forward the stalled peace process.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, after separate meetings with Rice and Abbas, urged the United States to continue seeking to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. But Israel said it would stop dealing with Abbas on larger peace issues if he went ahead and formed the coalition government with Hamas.

After the meetings Abbas acknowledged for the first time that sessions on Monday in Jerusalem with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Rice had been "tense and difficult" but said "it was not a failure and it will be followed by other meetings."

Abbas said Israel may have "misunderstood" the agreement reached in Mecca between his moderate Fatah faction and the militant Hamas group, according to Jordan's official Petra news agency.

"We told Israel that this agreement was made to protect the unity of the Palestinian people and its national interests," Abbas was quoted as saying. "The agreement is an expression of support for Palestinian interests, but Israel may have misunderstood it."

But in Israel, Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Olmert, ruled out any talks on a final peace deal with Abbas if he went ahead with plans to form a new Cabinet including Hamas.

Israeli talks with Abbas would be limited to matters such as improving living conditions for the Palestinians and ending Palestinian attacks against Israel. "We're not talking about negotiations on final status issues," Eisin said.

The planned Palestinian coalition government fell far short of what the United States and Israel wanted, and also disappointed Sunni Arab states -- many of them US allies -- that had hoped Hamas would soften anti-Israeli policies enough to satisfy the West and restart the flow of vital international aid.

In Nablus, in the West Bank, three American women were briefly kidnapped yesterday and were released later in the evening, Palestinian security officials said. The security officials said the three women were last seen taking pictures on the outskirts of the Balata refugee camp near Nablus before they were kidnapped. They were held briefly before being released, security officials said.

There was no claim of responsibility that appeared to be authentic.

At one point, a man calling himself Hadi Saud contacted the Associated Press in Nablus and said he was the kidnapper. He demanded to be given a job in the Palestinian security forces and medication for a shooting injury sustained last year, in exchange for releasing the hostages. He provided no proof that he was holding the women.

The women arrived unharmed at the office of the governor of Nablus.

Two identified themselves as Janet Miller, 26, and Gillian Rose, 26. The third would give only her first name and age: Susan, 27. They would not say where they lived in the United States, but Palestinian colleagues said they came from the Washington, D.C., area.

They said they worked with the Palestine Hydrology Group, based in Ramallah, an organization that works to solve water problems in the West Bank and Gaza.

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