Hamas forms government without moderate parties

Sunday, March 19, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Hamas said Saturday it had completed the formation of its government without succeeding to bring in moderate parties, a step that looked likely to only increase the chances of international isolation.

The narrow government to be presented to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting today could bring on crippling economic sanctions that the World Bank has warned would devastate the poverty-stricken Palestinian territories.

Abbas will approve the Hamas government -- which does not include his pragmatic Fatah Party, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.

But he will warn the Islamic militant group, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, that their refusal to moderate their hard-line positions could "get them into trouble," the spokesman said.

Hamas' Cabinet lineup has not been made public, but officials in the group said it would hold onto key posts including the foreign, interior and finance ministries.

Abbas was elected separately last year to a four-year term and wields considerable authority. However, he cannot impose his own Cabinet lineup on Hamas, which swept January parliament elections and controls an absolute majority in the legislature. Aides said Abbas does not want to cause a full-blown political crisis.

"Abu Mazen will not place obstacles before the Hamas government," Abu Rdeneh said, referring to the name by which Abbas is widely known.

The Palestinian parliament will not be asked to approve the new Hamas government until after Israel's March 28 election.

In another development, the Israeli army opened an investigation into the killing of an 8-year-old girl who was shot to death while riding in a car to have stitches removed in the West Bank.

Israeli troops left the West Bank village of Yamoun Saturday after a failed overnight arrest raid targeting fugitives the army believed were holed up in a house.

The army said it was investigating the killing of the girl.

At a news conference Saturday, Hamas' Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh did not give details of his party's government platform or the names of the new Cabinet ministers, saying he would wait until after his meeting with Abbas to make the information public.

"Following the deep consultations with all the factions, the movement has decided to move a step forward and to form the government," Haniyeh said. "The movement decided to leave the door open before all the factions that have not given their final decision, like our brothers in the PFLP."

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a small, radical PLO faction, is not expected to join Hamas' government. On Saturday, PFLP lawmaker Jamil Majdalawi said differences remained between the two groups.

Israel and the international community have said they will not have contact with a Hamas-led government unless the movement recognizes Israel, accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements and denounces violence. Hamas has rejected these conditions.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said the international community must be united in demanding Hamas accept the conditions, which have U.N. backing.

"If they continue to reject the international community's benchmarks they will find the Palestinian Authority will increasingly become a pariah regime in the international community," Regev said.

The Palestinian Authority is highly dependent on foreign aid to prop up its economy, which has suffered a near fatal blow during five years of fighting with Israel.

Since Hamas' January victory, Israel has suspended monthly transfers of tax revenue it collects for the Palestinians each month. It says it doesn't want the money -- which totaled $740 million last year -- to reach militants.

Hamas' proposed Cabinet lineup was partially presented to The Associated Press by Hamas and PFLP officials who insisted on anonymity because the list is not official.

Mahmoud Zahar, a hard-line Hamas firebrand, will almost definitely be named foreign minister, they said.

Said Siyam, a popular Hamas lawmaker from Gaza, has been tapped for the Interior and Civil Affairs ministries, which control three of the Palestinian's five security forces and are responsible for contacts with Israel's security services, the officials said.

Siyam, who is considered a relative moderate, was among hundreds of militants deported by Israel to south Lebanon in 1992. He recently joined a Hamas delegation to Moscow, where they met top Russian officials.

If the PFLP decides to join the Hamas government, it will be awarded the Finance Ministry, the officials said. If, as expected, the PFLP stays out of the government, Omar Abdel-Razek, a professor at Nablus' a-Najah University, will be named Finance Minister. Abdel-Razek was released from an Israeli prison just a few days ago.

Israeli troops left the West Bank village of Yamoun Saturday after a failed overnight arrest raid targeting fugitives the army believed were holed up in a house.

The girl, Akbar Zayed, was killed at the start of the operation late Friday when soldiers fired at a car she was riding in with her older brother and uncle, Palestinian witnesses and relatives said. The witnesses said the soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and fired without warning.

The army said it was investigating the killing of the girl.

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