EU welcomes Palestinian unity deal but peace talks the priority

The European Union welcomed Thursday the unity accord between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas but said the priority remains peace talks with Israel.

"The EU's top priority is that the current talks continue beyond April 29," said a spokesman for EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, referring to the deadline for a US-led effort to broker a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal.

"The EU has consistently called for intra-Palestinian reconciliation behind" Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, spokesman Michael Mann said in a statement.

Such an understanding was "an important element for the unity of a future Palestinian state and for reaching a two-state solution (with Israel)," Mann added.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier that Wednesday's agreement meant Abbas was choosing "Hamas, not peace".

Hamas, which rules Gaza, opposes all peace talks with Israel.

Despite the uproar, a close aide of Netanyahu, MP Tzahi Hanegbi, said Israel was unlikely to halt the peace talks launched by US Secretary of State John Kerry in July.

Mann said the EU was following developments closely and looking "into the details of the agreement and its implementation".

The EU "welcomes the prospect of genuine democratic elections" for president and the legislature envisaged in the accord, he added.