Hamas announces formation of Cabinet

RAMALLAH — Hamas yesterday announced it had decided on the next Palestinian Cabinet and will present the names to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday, two weeks ahead of the deadline.

Talks with other Palestinian factions ended Friday with no apparent agreements struck, leaving Hamas no choice but to form a government of its own members and any independents willing to join.

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh said he would present the names in a scheduled meeting with Abbas on Sunday. While no names were officially released, it is believed Hamas will assign three key posts, the foreign, finance and interior portfolios, to prominent leaders within the movement.

“I have agreed with the president to meet him on Sunday evening to present to him the final formation of the Cabinet and discuss the next steps toward presenting it to parliament,” Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza.

Aides to Abbas earlier said the PA president had no intention of rejecting Hamas’ Cabinet choices, contrary to earlier reports, but would press the group to make changes to its agenda, which calls for resistance by any means to end the Israeli occupation.

While Abbas can reject Hamas’ new Cabinet, such a move could create a constitutional crisis since Hamas, which won 74 seats in the January elections and therefore holds an absolute majority in parliament, can block the formation of any alternative government.

Abbas is expected to put off parliamentary approval of the new government until after Israel’s March 28 elections. But spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said the president would accept the Hamas Cabinet even if it does not adopt his more moderate platform.

“Abu Mazen will not place obstacles before the Hamas government,” Abu Rudeina told the Associated Press. However, Abbas will advise Hamas it could “get into trouble” by refusing to accept a more pragmatic programme, Abu Rudeina added.

A Hamas-led government without any coalition partner, particularly in the absence of Fateh, is almost certainly going to be faced with intensified Israeli and US attempts at financially isolating the PA.

Nevertheless, Haniyeh struck a defiant tone Saturday.

“We have no doubt we will succeed in shouldering our responsibilities and running Palestinian affairs. The people who gave us their trust will not starve,” Haniyeh said in Gaza.

He also urged donors not to cut funding to the PA, which supports nearly one in four Palestinians.

“Threatening to cut aid means to punish a people because they practised democracy in fairness and transparency,” he said.

The names reportedly set to take up some of the most important posts in the new government are Omar Abdel Razeq, a West Bank economics professor, as finance minister, Mahmoud Zahar, a prominent hardliner, as foreign minister and Saeed Sayam, another Gaza-based Hamas leader, as interior minister with control over three security services.

Abdel Razeq, a professor at Al Najah University in Nablus, led Hamas’ election team for the West Bank. He was seized by Israeli forces early in January and freed only Thursday. Zahar survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 2003 when he escaped a missile strike on his home in Gaza City that killed one of his sons.

Hamas might reportedly keep Mazen Sonnoqrot, an independent, in his post as economy minister.

Abbas, meanwhile, came under pressure from his own Fateh Party Friday, when a group in the party called on him to resign and dissolve the Palestinian Authority. A statement from the group said Israel’s Jericho prison raid last Tuesday, “with US and British collusion,” had left the PA no choice, since the raid was a “humiliation” and “left the PA incapable of performing future tasks since it can’t protect detainees.”

Yesterday, Abu Rudeina said Abbas had no intention of resigning or dissolving the PA.

If the PA dissolved, Israel — as the occupier of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — would theoretically be forced to assume responsibility for the some three million Palestinians living there. The dissolution also would render Hamas’ election victory irrelevant.

In other developments Saturday, Israeli troops left the West Bank village of Yarmoun, near Jenin, after failing to arrest three Palestinians overnight the Israeli army was reportedly seeking.

At the start of the operation late Friday, eight-year-old Akaber Saed was killed 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 Israeli army said the car was trying to evade a checkpoint. But Kamal Saed, the girl’s uncle who was driving the car, said three men ran towards the car and before he could turn off the engine they fired on him.

“I saw them behind the fence. There were more than 30 soldiers. The first bullet hit my niece. She got a bullet in the head from the very beginning,” Saed told reporters from his hospital bed, where he was being treated Saturday for gunshot wounds in his arm and leg.

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