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Monday, February 20, 2006

 

AP: Hamas parliament coalition talks proceed

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer -- Monday, 1 hour, 7 minutes ago

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hamas on Monday began coalition talks to form the Palestinians' first government led by Islamic militants after winning the nod from moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas parliament member Mohammed Abu Teir, left,  reads a newspaper as he gathers with other new Hamas parliament members  inside the office of the new Parliament speaker, Hamas' Abdul Aziz Duaik, not seen at the Legislative Council building, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Monday, Feb. 20, 2006. Hamas on Monday began coalition talks to form the Palestinians' first government led by Islamic militants after winning the nod from moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)Hamas parliament member Mohammed Abu Teir, to the left of the picture at right,  reads a newspaper as he gathers with other new Hamas parliament members  inside the office of the new Parliament speaker, Hamas' Abdul Aziz Duaik, not seen, at the Legislative Council building, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Monday, Feb. 20, 2006. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

In a meeting Monday evening, Abbas was set to appoint Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' leader in Gaza, as Palestinian prime minister, giving him five weeks put together a government. Abbas directed the Islamic group to lead the next government after it took control of the new Palestinian parliament Saturday.

Hamas won 74 of 132 parliament seats in elections last month and could govern alone. But it is seeking coalition partners, including Abbas' defeated Fatah Party, in part to help win international acceptance.

Senior Fatah officials, however, have said their party would not join a Hamas government. Hamas legislators met with several small factions Monday.

Haniyeh is considered a pragmatist in the hierarchy of the violent Islamic movement, which has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel.

But Israel has ruled out any compromise with Hamas, cutting off millions of dollars of vital funds Sunday and branding the new regime a "terrorist authority."

In the latest violence, Israeli forces shot and killed a senior member of the militant Islamic Jihad group in the West Bank city of Nablus, Palestinians said. Islamic Jihad identified the man as Ahmed Abu Sharik, its top commander in the region.

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

Military officials said Abu Sharik had been involved in numerous attacks on Israeli soldiers, and had helped plan a recent suicide attack in Tel Aviv. The army also arrested 15 militants overnight throughout the West Bank.

Abbas has called on Hamas to accept existing agreements with Israel and allow him to continue pursuing a peace deal with the Jewish state. Hamas has rejected the calls, but said it would seek a compromise with the Palestinian leader.

Hamas lawmaker Salah Bardawil said the meeting between Haniyeh and Abbas would focus on "common issues and the differences in our programs.  We always seek dialogue," he said.

On Sunday, Israel's Cabinet decided to stop the transfer of the roughly $55 million a month it collects in taxes and tariffs on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. But it did not 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.

The order did not specify when the payments would stop, but government spokesman Asaf Shariv said the next payment, scheduled for early March, "won't take place."

Army Radio quoted Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz saying the cutoff would be reviewed each month.

Hamas is listed as a terror organization by the United States and the European Union, and many Western countries have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the Palestinian Authority if the group does not renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist. But Hamas has resisted pressure to moderate.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday the Palestinian Authority was "becoming a terrorist authority" and ruled out any "contacts with a government in which Hamas takes part."

The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority relies on monthly transfers to help pay the salaries of roughly 140,000 government employees, including about 57,000 in the security forces.

In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., Haniya said he was "deeply sorry" that Israel had labeled Hamas a terrorist group and said the Palestinians had "lots of alternatives.  We have other Arab and Islamic countries and members of the international community who are ready to stand next to the Palestinian people," he said.

On Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference would provide institutional and financial aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. He did not say how much the OIC, the world's largest Islamic group, would give or when it would provide the funds.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which has associated groups in 86 countries, said Monday it was launching a worldwide donation campaign for the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Iran's supreme leader also called on Muslim nations to provide annual financial aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government and supported the radical group's refusal to recognize Israel.

Foreign ministers from several Arab countries, meanwhile, were to meet in Algiers on Monday to discuss a plan to send about $50 million a month to the Palestinian Authority.

Should the government, the Palestinians' largest employer, be forced to lay off tens of thousands of workers, it would lead to increased chaos and poverty in Palestinian towns throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian experts estimate that the Palestinian budget shortfall is about $1 billion a year, and the Israel-collected funds would cover about half of that.

Abbas said cuts in aid were already being felt. "We are in real financial crisis," he told reporters in Gaza.  Abbas said Sunday he agreed to return $50 million in special aid given by the U.S. government. The U.S. asked for the money after Hamas won the parliamentary elections.

Source: AP-Yahoo News story.

 
Dave Haigler, Abilene, Texas
lawfirm webpage:
www.haigler.info
political blog: http://demlog.blogspot.com

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