Islamic Hamas to form new Palestinian government

Hamas held coalition talks Monday as it laid the groundwork for forming the first Palestinian government to be led by Islamic militants following its overwhelming victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections. In a meeting scheduled for Monday evening, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to officially designate Hamas' Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh, as the next prime minister, giving him five weeks to cobble together a government. Abbas directed the Islamic group to lead the next government after it assumed control of the Palestinian parliament Saturday.

Hamas controls 74 of 132 parliament seats and could govern alone. However, the group said it wants to form a coalition, including Abbas' defeated Fatah Party, apparently to help win international acceptance. Fatah officials have said their party would not join a Hamas government. Throughout the day, Hamas legislators met with potential governing partners and planned a meeting with the violent Islamic Jihad group, which did not participate in the elections.

Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas official leading the talks, said the group expected to form a government in the next two weeks. "We are optimistic about establishing a national unity government that can represent a national attitude," Zahar said after holding talks with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Later Monday, Abbas was scheduled to meet with Haniyeh, who is considered a pragmatist in the hierarchy of Hamas, which has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel. "A large part of the meeting will be about the common issues and the differences in our programs," said Hamas lawmaker Salah Bardawil. "We always seek dialogue."

Israel and Western countries have demanded Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, but Hamas has resisted pressure to moderate. Israel responded to the inauguration of the Hamas-led parliament by cutting off millions of dollars of vital funds to the Palestinian Authority and branding it a "terrorist authority."

Israel's acting Foreign Minister Livni called for foreign nations to work with Israel to isolate Hamas. "There is a need for the international community to have a united front regarding the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority in the Hamas era," she said.

Yuval Diskin, head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, told Israeli lawmakers Monday that a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority posed a serious danger to Israel. "A Hamas state on the borders of Israel is a real threat. This will be a radical Sunni state that radical forces can reach from around the world," he told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "Therefore a Hamas state like this, with military and terror capabilities, is a strategic threat to Israel."

Early Monday, Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Nablus shot and killed Ahmed Abu Sharik, 30, Islamic Jihad's top commander in the region, the militant group said. 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 a raid in Nablus.

"We found a group of people we have been seeking for a while and we went for them," he said. "We know every street and alley, where they are and where they hide." Military officials said Abu Sharik had been involved in numerous attacks on Israeli soldiers, and helped plan a recent suicide attack in Tel Aviv. The army also arrested 15 militants overnight throughout the West Bank, reports the AP.


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