Palestinian parliament opens with Hamas at helm


  • World
  • Saturday, 18 Feb 2006

By Wafa Amr

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - 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. 

The new parliament paves the way for Hamas to form a government amid calls by major world powers for a boycott of the militant Islamist group over its official stance, which calls for the destruction of Israel. 

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh talks on the phone inside his house in Gaza February 16, 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/Mohammed Salem)

"Hamas has decided that Ismael Haniyeh will be the prime minister for the next government," Aziz Dweik, a Hamas leader and the new speaker of parliament told reporters. 

The sweeping victory of Hamas in last month's parliamentary election has put it on a collision course with President Mahmoud Abbas's peace policies while Israel is mulling tough new restrictions to pressure a Hamas-led government. 

Hamas's 74 delegates took control of the 132-seat parliament in a session in the West Bank city of Ramallah and via videolink in the Gaza Strip. 

Abbas is expected to demand that the new government recognise interim peace deals with Israel -- a state the group is formally committed to destroying. 

But Abbas will stop short of making such measures a condition for forming a cabinet, a senior Palestinian official said. 

"He will clearly tell Hamas he expects its government to pursue the policies of the previous governments, that it must respect the Authority's signed agreements with Israel and pursue peaceful means to resist occupation," the official told Reuters. 

Hamas officials have said the group will present its own initiative to parliament -- not necessarily on Saturday -- including a proposal for a long-term truce with Israel if it withdraws from land captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek for a state. 

But Hamas officials said the group would not rescind its call for Israel's destruction or recognise the Jewish state. 

Warning of possible turmoil ahead, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that if Hamas's government rejected Abbas's peace policies, "it will be a violation of the constitution, and will lead to a major crisis". 

Hamas won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council in a Jan. 25 parliamentary election, beating Abbas's long-dominant Fatah which has been accused of widespread corruption and mismanagement. 

ISRAELI TRAVEL BAN 

Israel banned 30 lawmakers in Gaza, all members of Hamas or linked to militant groups, from travelling to Ramallah for Saturday's session in line with existing Israeli policy. 

It is also considering taking tough measures against a Hamas-led government including banning labourers and goods from entering Israel from Gaza. 

Israeli officials said a decision would only be taken once Hamas assumes control of parliament and sets out its policies. 

Washington, which has asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million in U.S. aid to prevent it from reaching Hamas, cautioned Israel against taking any measures that would make life difficult for the Palestinians. 

The United States and other world powers have urged nations to boycott Hamas, which has masterminded nearly 60 suicide attacks against Israel since a 2000 uprising, unless it disarms and recognises the Jewish state and past peace deals. 

Defying that call, Russia has said it would invite Hamas to Moscow for talks. 

Hamas, which has largely adhered to a truce since March last year, has refused to give up its weapons. 

Aziz Dweik, chosen by Hamas as the speaker of the new parliament, said the policies of the new government would be based on "negotiating with the preservation of our right to resist (Israel)". 

In the Gaza Strip, about 400 gunmen from a Fatah armed group set fire to tyres and blocked streets in a protest demanding payment of outstanding salaries outside the hall where the new parliamentary delegates will meet in Gaza City. 

(Additional reporting by Mohammed Assadi and Nidal al-Mughrabi in the Gaza Strip) 

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