Senior Hamas leaders said Wednesday the Islamic militant group would appoint a Cabinet in early March, or several weeks before Israeli elections, a timetable likely to play into the hands of hawkish Israeli parties.
Top Israeli officials, meanwhile, have launched a three-day brainstorming session to finalize their policy on dealing with the Palestinians as the new Hamas era dawns. An Israeli newspaper quoted Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz as saying Israel wouldn't deal with the Palestinians at all if Hamas tapped its own people to serve as prime minister and parliament speaker.
In other news, Israeli troops shot dead a retarded Palestinian teen holding a toy gun. Palestinian security forces said Mujahed Al Simadi was shot in the chest after a group of youths threw stones at a house that the soldiers had taken over. The Israeli army, in a preliminary report on the killing, said soldiers opened fire on an armed man.
The Hamas-led Palestinian parliament is to convene on Saturday for the first time, but there had been indications that Hamas would wait until after Israel's March 28 balloting to appoint a Cabinet.
But on Wednesday, Ismail Haniyeh, widely seen as Hamas' top candidate for prime minister, said a Cabinet would be in place around early March.
"We will be ready in two weeks" from Saturday, Haniyeh told The Associated Press.
Hamas' unexpected rise to power in Jan. 25 Palestinian elections, and its subsequent refusal to renounce its violent campaign against Israel, is expected to dominate Israel's election, reports the AP.