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Hamas presents its pick for Palestinian PM
Updated: 2006-02-21 08:44

Islamic Jihad leader Sheik Nafez Azzam said the group, which boycotted the election, would not join the government. The PFLP, which won just three seats, did not give an answer.

It had been expected that Haniyeh, a relative moderate by Hamas standards, would receive the official appointment on Monday. Palestinian officials did not explain the delay, but Abbas has been pressing Hamas to moderate its anti-Israel positions and accept the idea of peace talks. Hamas has refused.

The Israeli Cabinet decided Sunday to stop the transfer of the roughly $55 million a month it collects in taxes and tariffs on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. But the Cabinet declined to adopt tougher restrictions proposed by some Israeli security officials, including sealing off the Gaza Strip from Israel, barring thousands of Palestinian laborers from entering Israel and eliminating all trade with the impoverished area.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked Monday with partners in the so-called Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators about the financial situation of the Palestinian territories and their new leaders, a State Department spokesman said.

The conversation between Rice and representatives of Russia, the European Union and the United Nations "covered issues of support to the Palestinian people," spokesman Noel Clay said.

He also said the negotiations "took note" of another statement by Israel on Sunday that it would ask the international community to stop giving money to the Palestinians but humanitarian aid should continue.

Many Western countries have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the Palestinian Authority if Hamas does not moderate.

Clay said the U.S. would stay in touch with other donors about funding as Hamas forms a government.

The process of picking Haniyeh as prime minister-designate is a mere formality after the Jan. 25 election in which Hamas won 74 seats in the 132-member legislature. Abbas' Fatah Party, which had dominated Palestinian life for four decades, won only 45.

Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said further talks were set for Tuesday, when Abbas will formally ask Haniyeh to form a government. Haniyeh will then have five weeks to do so.

Even before he takes office, Haniyeh has been shunned by Israel, the U.S. and the Europe Union, which consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Yuval Diskin, head of the Israeli Shin Bet security agency, said a Hamas entity next to Israel is a "strategic threat" as the group could invite extremist Islamic terror networks like al-Qaida and Hezbollah to operate in Palestinian areas.

"This will be a radical Sunni state that radical forces can reach from around the world," he told a parliamentary committee.

Acting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for the international community to have "a united front regarding the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority in the Hamas era," she said.

Israel's decision to freeze transfer of tax money collected for the Palestinians drew criticism Monday from the U.N. envoy to the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, who said the move was "premature" and noted the money belongs to the Palestinians.

Israeli official Raanan Gissin rebuffed charges that Israel was breaking the interim peace accord that mandates handing over the funds.

He said the Israelis were not obligated to transfer funds that could be use for terrorism because "Hamas does not respect" the agreement.

Israeli forces, meanwhile, hunted militants in the West Bank city of Nablus and Palestinian hospital officials said 23 people were wounded in clashes.

Soldiers shot to death Ahmed Abu Sharik, 30, Islamic Jihad's top commander in the region, on Monday, the militant group said.

Israeli commander Lt. Col. Benjamin Shick said his forces caught a group of militants, including Abu Sharik, off-guard on the second day of their Nablus raid.

Military officials said Abu Sharik was involved in numerous attacks on Israeli soldiers, and helped plan a recent suicide attack in Tel Aviv.

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