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U.S. Okays Hamas Election Participation

The United States signaled an easing of opposition to the participation of the militant group Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections and urged Israel to cooperate in organizing the polls. The position elaborated by U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in sharp contrast to Israel's unyielding hostility to an electoral role for Hamas and its pledge not to help in the elections if Hamas ran.

At a news conference of the Middle East diplomatic "Quartet" here, Rice reiterated the U.S. view that there was a "fundamental contradiction" between Hamas' armed activities and its plan to run in January's legislative polls.

But she added, "We understand that the Palestinian political system is in transition, that it is in transition toward a democratic system and that that has to be a Palestinian process."

"I think we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process," the chief U.S. diplomat said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has threatened to withhold all cooperation in election preparations if Hamas, considered by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist group, is allowed to run.

But Rice said, "We would hope that the elections can go forward and that everyone will cooperate to make those elections go forward because elections are fundamental to the continued evolution and development of the Palestinian process."