Palestinian president determined to visit Gaza, Hamas says visit may be paid after government is formed

U.S. tells Palestinian Authority it totally rejects quest for UN recognition

Iranian MPs collect signature to impeach Ahmadinejad

Obama concerned over Taleban negotiations

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday decided to renew his plan to visit the Gaza Strip, which is under the rule of rival Hamas movement.

"I'm determined to go to the Gaza Strip and this might be a surprise for everyone," Abbas said at the beginning of a meeting for the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Abbas did not speak when he will visit Gaza. The first time he declared this was in March, when Palestinian youths in Gaza and the West Bank staged mass protests, demanding Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party to reconcile and restore political unity to the two Palestinian territories.

Abbas has never set foot in Gaza since Hamas routed his forces and took over the enclave in 2007.

Last month, Hamas and Fatah signed an Egypt-brokered agreement to achieve Palestinian unity, but differences on the prime minister who will lead the unity government have blocked the agreement so far.

Abbas said Sunday that he is determined to achieve national reconciliation despite differences on the head of unity government.

Abbas also stressed that the government must be formed from apolitical professionals who would be committed to the president's program.

"This is in order to contribute in empowering the Palestinian position and withdraw pretexts from the Israeli side and the countries that support it," Abbas said.

Abbas reiterated that the government's tasks include rebuilding the Gaza Strip and preparing for elections one year after its formation, according to the Egyptian-brokered agreement that was signed earlier to reconcile Abbas' Fatah party and Islamic Hamas movement.

To avoid international isolation, Abbas nominated Salam Fayyad, the West Bank-based prime minister, to lead the new government that will also administer the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, but the Islamic movement strongly rejected Fayyad, causing the talks to form the government to take more time.

Meanwhile, the United States could withdraw funding from the United Nations if its members decide to recognize and independent Palestinian state, a close ally of President Barack Obama has warned.

In Tehran, a number of Iranian MPs threatened on Sunday to impeach Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi for appointing an aide to the president's underfire chief of staff as one of his deputies.

Salehi last week appointed Mohammad Sahrif Malekzadeh as a deputy foreign minister in charge of administrative and financial affairs.

Malekzadeh was a top official in the high council of Iranian affairs abroad, run by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, whom ultra-conservatives accuse of aiming to undermine the Islamic regime.

A number of influential deputies in the conservative-dominated parliament reacted the next day by calling for the impeachment of Salehi.

"We hope that Salehi will sack Malekzadeh as soon as possible ... and rebuff the current of deviation's pressure," said one of the MPs, Mohammad Dehqan, quoted by Mehr news agency. "If he does not, the Majlis (Parliament) will go for impeachment."

Ultra-conservatives, the Shiite clergy and the elite Revolutionary Guards have repeatedly called for Mashaie's dismissal, accusing him of leading "a current of deviation" and of exerting too much influence over the president.

Ahmadinejad has so far adamantly defended his aides, including Mashaie.

The threatened impeachment of Salehi, in a letter posted on the Majlis website, said Malekzadeh's appointment was against the national interest.

"Such an appointment jeopardizes the nation's interests ... This person is on the verge of being arrested as (the judiciary) is investigating him over financial and non-financial cases," it said.

Salehi, who appeared before the Majlis national security and foreign policy commission on Sunday, in reply to a question on whether an impeachment was raised at the session, said "it was not an important issue."

"This matter should be investigated," he said, asked if Malekzadeh's appointment was discussed, according to state television's website.

"Salehi told us it is not in the interest of the country to have someone at the foreign ministry who has a criminal record, and if his (Malekzadeh's judicial) cases are confirmed, then he will sack him," Zohereh Elahian, a member of the commission, told Mehr news agency.

She added that the impeachment call would remain on the table.

Under the constitution, the signatures of 10 MPs in the 290-seat Majlis are needed to start impeachment procedures against an incumbent minister. The move needs the approval of parliament's presiding board before being sent for a vote.

The rift between Ahmadinejad and ultra-conservatives surfaced in mid-April when he challenged a ruling by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vetoing a decision by the president to sack Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi.

Ahmadinejad then withdrew from public life for 10 days, igniting a bitter dispute with the conservatives supporting the supreme leader.

Ayatollah Khamenei has since repeatedly called on all factions to rein in their attacks on the president and his aides.

The row between the government and parliament has also heightened in recent months over the budget, the scrapping of state subsidies and a project to streamline the cabinet.

The parliament is even considering moves to officially question Ahmadinejad, after ultra-conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari said about 90 MPs had signed a petition to do so, according to media reports.

On the other hand, U.S. President Barack Obama has told the world it's time to scale back troops in Afghanistan, but results from a global poll suggest people think it's time to ramp up negotiations with the Taliban.

The poll, conducted by the BBC and global polling firm GlobeScan, says 40 per cent of respondents worldwide would prefer that NATO negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban, making room for it in the Afghan government, rather than continue trying to defeat it or withdraw soldiers immediately.

The survey results were released on Thursday, just days after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced on Sunday that the administration officially had begun preliminary talks with the Taliban.

"(The results) may reveal a realistic recognition on the part of the public that the Taliban is not going to be defeated militarily," said Roland Paris, an expert in international security at the University of Ottawa.

The poll, which surveyed more than 24,000 people in 24 countries, was conducted between December 2010 and February 2011.

It asked whether respondents thought NATO should negotiate with the Taliban, continue trying to defeat it, or "withdraw its forces now." Just under one-third of respondents globally supported this last option.

Almost 40 per cent of Canadians polled said they thought negotiation was the way to go.

"That's a very Canadian thing to do," said Doug Miller, chairman of GlobeScan. "We as a country are still getting used to playing an active military role given our tradition of peacekeeping, so it's understandable that Canadians gravitate towards negotiation."

However, he added, it is significant that only 28 per cent of Canadian respondents said troops should withdraw right away.

This suggests there is "fairly significant" body of opinion favoring military action despite the loss of Canadian lives, Miller said.

Compared to respondents in other countries, a higher proportion of Americans (42 per cent) supported a continued military effort against the Taliban, but nearly one-third said they favored negotiation.

Respondents in countries with an Islamic majority also tended to favor a negotiated settlement, even though large sections of respondents favored withdrawing troops immediately.

Thousands of NATO troops will withdraw gradually from Afghanistan in the coming months, but contingents will remain in non-combat functions. For example, a deployment of Canadian soldiers will remain in the country to help to train local police.

Paris said it is too early to know whether the preliminary talks between the U.S. government and the Taliban will lead to a negotiated peace.

"The obstacles to reaching an agreement are formidable," he said. For starters, the Taliban itself is a fragmented movement.

Even determining who actually represents Taliban leader Mullah Omar will be a challenge.

In addition, Paris said, it is not clear what the demands from the Taliban side will be. Lastly, there are tensions within Afghanistan itself that could be dangerous to the negotiations and hamper a peace agreement.

The Taliban, driven from power in Afghanistan when U.S. and British troops invaded following the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have consistently rejected any efforts to talk peace in public statements.

"One thing is clear," Paris said. "The majority of Afghans would like to see negotiations with the Taliban. They just don't want to see the Taliban back in power."