Hamas legislator chosen speaker of the new Palestinian parliament

Hamas legislator Abdel Aziz Duaik, a geography professor from the West Bank, was elected speaker of the new Palestinian parliament Saturday, a position that puts him next in line should Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas die or be incapacitated while in office.

Duaik, 57, considered a relative moderate in the Islamic militant group, was elected to the post shortly after the new Hamas-dominated parliament was sworn in. The parliament speaker assumes leadership for 60 days if the head of the Palestinian Authority can no longer fulfill his responsibilities.

The Cairo-born Duaik was elected with 70 votes in the 132-member legislature. The outgoing speaker, Rauhi Fattouh of Fatah, handed Duaik the gavel, to cheers and applause from Hamas lawmakers.

Hamas' surprise victory in a Jan. 25 election gave the Islamic movement 74 parliamentary seats, ousting Abbas' Fatah party, which has dominated Palestinian politics for decades.

Hamas is officially sworn to Israel's destruction, and could be in for a showdown with Abbas, who wants the group to recognize past Israeli-Palestinian agreements and hold peace negotiations with the Jewish state.

In his maiden speech, the new speaker said parliament's first mission would be to quickly review the legality of "all decisions and decrees" made during the transition period after the parliament election.

Duaik did not elaborate, but last week, the outgoing parliament controlled by Fatah approved the creation of a constitutional court that would give Abbas more power over a Hamas-led government.

Duaik also promised that Hamas would fight for Palestinian rights and to end the Israeli occupation. But in comments to reporters before entering the parliament session, Duaik noted that the challenge for the new government would be to unite the Palestinian people and form a government with Fatah.

"I think Israel should realize the fact that this is the choice of our people and our people are people who would like to live free under the skies like any other nation in the world," Duaik told reporters.

Duaik is not worried by threats from Israel and the United States to impose economic sanctions on a Hamas-led government, a move that could strangle the already impoverished Palestinian population.

"The West believes a hungry man is an angry man and they know that if they impose a siege on this area then this area will be drowned in a new wave of violence and such violence is not in their interests," Duaik told The Associated Press.

O.Ch.