The Israeli government has  halted peace talks with the Palestinians in response to a new unity agreement between Hamas and Fatah – appearing to put an end to the nine-month process.

The decision was announced on Thursday afternoon following a five hour meeting of Israel’s security cabinet. Israel is furious over Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to form a unity government with the rival Hamas movement after a seven-year rift. Israel and the West consider Hamas a terrorist group.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel.

“The agreement between Abu Mazen and Hamas was signed even as Israel is making efforts to advance the negotiations with the Palestinians. It is the direct continuation of the Palestinians’ refusal to advance the negotiations. Only last month Abu Mazen rejected the framework principles proposed by the United States.

“Abu Mazen has refused to even discuss recognizing Israel as the national state of the Jewish People. He violated existing agreements by unilaterally applying to accede to international treaties and then formed an alliance with Hamas. Whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace.” In a BBC interview, Netanyahu vowed that his government would only resume negotiations if Abbas backtracked on his deal with Hamas.

Next Tuesday marked the deadline set by the Americans to the negotiations but some had held out hopes that an agreement would be reached to extend the talks. The process had suffered severe difficulties in recent weeks with the Jerusalem refusing to release a fourth group of prisoners without a guarantee that Abbas would agree to extend the talks beyond this month. The Palestinians then unilaterally applied for membership to a numhalts peace ber of international bodies.