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Hamas PM won't respond to deal demand
Updated: 2006-02-22 08:50

Ismail Haniyeh of the militant group Hamas was appointed Tuesday as the next Palestinian prime minister, but he refused to respond to a demand from the president to adhere to interim peace deals reached with Israel.

After accepting the letter designating him as prime minister, Haniyeh met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for more than two hours, their second such session in two days — an indication of the wide gaps between the two men.

Hamas PM won't respond to deal demand
Hamas' Ismail Haniyeh leaves the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' office with the official nomination for the formation of his new government as Prime Minister in Gaza City Monday Feb. 21, 2006. Abbas formally tasked Haniyeh with forming a new government, one month after the radical Islamist faction's massive election victory. [AP]
Abbas is the head of Fatah, the Islamic movement Hamas trounced in last month's Palestinian parliamentary election. Abbas was elected president last year, and now he will have to deal with a Hamas parliament and Cabinet.

The letter naming Haniyeh, in addition to the official appointment, was a one-page summary of Abbas' political positions, according to Abbas aides who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to give details.

Abbas has said the Hamas-led government must accept the agreements made by previous governments — including interim peace accords with Israel and the internationally backed "road map" plan for a Palestinian state.

Haniyeh was noncommittal. "We will study it, and God willing, we will answer soon to Abu Mazen (Abbas), God willing," he said.

Hamas ideology does not recognize a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the militant group has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel. Since the election, Hamas has rebuffed demands from Israel, the U.S., the United Nations and Europe to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Haniyeh has five weeks to form a Cabinet, and he began holding talks with several small factions after the Hamas-dominated parliament took office Saturday. A relative moderate by Hamas standards and a skilled negotiator, Haniyeh said he wants to bring Fatah into his government.

"I think the room for agreement with Fatah is large," he said, "and we hope to reach a formula through which we can form a national unity government." So far Fatah has refused.

The 46-year-old Haniyeh also said it was "premature" to discuss incorporating the Hamas military wing into Palestinian security services.

Hamas' rise to power has badly damaged chances of renewing peace negotiations. Israel refuses to deal with the group until it renounces violence and recognizes the Jewish state.

Further diminishing peace prospects, exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal was in Iran, Israel's staunchest enemy, seeking to drum up support.

Speaking to Israel TV, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that the chances of a "quick agreement" with the Palestinians are less now that Hamas is in charge.

"But the hope has not disappeared, and I am responsible for both things, the battle against Hamas and maintaining hope, the chance to reach an agreement," he said.

It is unclear how Israel could carry out peace talks with Hamas in government. Abbas has suggested that he could handle peace negotiations, while letting Hamas focus on its domestic agenda of improving social services and rooting out government corruption.

Israeli officials say they will not deal with a "two-headed government" that includes a party committed to the country's destruction. After Hamas took over parliament, Israel froze the transfer of roughly $50 million in tax funds to the cash-starved Palestinian Authority each month.

Israel also has urged the international community to join it in isolating Hamas. The United States and the European Union, which consider Hamas a terrorist group, have threatened to halt hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid once the new Palestinian Cabinet takes office.

In the West Bank on Tuesday, Israeli troops pressed an operation in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus. The army said troops found more than 155 pounds of explosives, and Palestinian officials said 18 Palestinians were wounded in clashes.

The army has been hunting for militants in Balata for three days. Residents said they were running out of food and water, and the army allowed five lawmakers to bring in supplies. The lawmakers are from Hamas but said they did not disclose their affiliation to the soldiers.

The army said it removed three small West Bank outposts near Ramallah. No violence was reported. Under the "road map" peace plan, Israel has pledged to remove about two dozen unauthorized West Bank outposts.

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