JERUSALEM - Responding to a unity accord among Palestinian factions, Israel said Thursday that it was suspending negotiations with the Palestinians, breaking off nine months of talks brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the talks were "suspended now," because of pending moves by the Palestinians to establish a unity government that would be backed by the extremist Islamist group Hamas as well as the more moderate Fatah faction of Mahmoud Abbas.
The Israeli action - which also calls for new sanctions on the Palestinian Authority - came days before a Tuesday deadline for extending the talks.
After a meeting that lasted several hours, the Israeli security cabinet issued a statement that said it had "unanimously decided that Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel's destruction."
At the State Department, Kerry said: "There is always a way forward."
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry had reiterated his disappointment in the timing of the Palestinian reconciliation announcement in a phone call Thursday with Abbas.
Psaki, who for months has responded to questions about the viability of the peace talks with a pat line about both sides emphasizing their commitment, could not say whether that was still the case. She acknowledged that the Israeli move didn't bode well for extending talks beyond the deadline, but she wouldn't characterize the effort as dead.
"Choices need to be made by both parties, and we'll see what happens," Psaki said. She was careful not to assign blame for the breakdown, saying both sides have taken "unhelpful" steps throughout the talks.
On Wednesday, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement to carry out a long-stalled reconciliation accord. The agreement provides for the establishment of a unity government composed of technocrats within five weeks, which would prepare for elections six months later.
Similar recent accords have failed to materialize, and it was unclear whether the latest agreement, announced with much fanfare in Gaza, would in fact end a bitter Fatah-Hamas split.