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Hamas takes over Palestinian parliament
Updated: 2006-02-18 21:32

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Islamist group Hamas took over as the dominant party in the Palestinian parliament on Saturday and swiftly rejected President Mahmoud Abbas's call to pursue his peacemaking efforts with Israel.

Hamas takes over Palestinian parliament
Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader and the Palestinian Authority's next prime minister, gestures during a parliament meeting in Gaza February 18, 2006. Hamas took over as the dominant party in the Palestinian parliament on Saturday and named its leader Ismail Haniyeh as the Palestinian Authority's next prime minister. [Reuters]
The swearing-in of the parliament, elected last month, paves the way for Hamas to form a government that is on a potential collision course with Abbas and faces a boycott by major powers unless it renounces violence and its vow to destroy Israel.

Israel is considering tougher restrictions on Palestinians as a way to pressure the government to be led by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, seen by Palestinians as a relative pragmatist.

In a speech at the opening of parliament, Abbas said the new government must recognize past peace deals with Israel and commit itself to pursuing statehood through talks, but he stopped short of setting conditions for forming a cabinet.

"The presidency and the government will continue to respect our commitment to the negotiations as a strategic, pragmatic political choice," Abbas said.

"At the same time, we must continue to strengthen and develop forms of popular resistance of a peaceful nature."

Abbas's words won applause from Fatah lawmakers but not from Hamas members.

"We were elected on a different political agenda," said Haniyeh as sessions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, joined by video link, broke off for Muslim prayers.

One newly elected Hamas lawmaker prayed on the floor of the building in Gaza.

Hamas won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council in a January 25 parliamentary election, beating Abbas's long-dominant Fatah which is widely accused of corruption and mismanagement. Hamas won 74 seats in the 132-member parliament.

Hamas boycotted the previous parliamentary election in 1996 because it rejected interim peace accords with Israel. It says those deals are now dead and it will not be bound by them.

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