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Hamas Presents Cabinet List to Abbas
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Hamas was expected to present its cabinet to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday, facing the prospect of governing alone after moderate factions refused to join a coalition.

The group's failure to attract any partners so far and its move to appoint Hamas loyalists to top ministerial posts could bolster US and Israeli efforts to isolate the new government.

Hamas, which eclipsed Abbas's long-dominant Fatah faction in a January 25 general election, has completed its cabinet just over a week before Israel's own parliamentary election on March 28.

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh was expected to give the names to Abbas at around 9 PM (19:00 GMT) in Gaza, a delay from a previously expected time, officials said.

Abbas said he would not reject the cabinet and expected parliament to convene soon for a vote of confidence.

"Today I will meet brother Ismail Haniyeh and we will see the (formation) of the cabinet. After that the legal procedures will take place such as going to (parliament) and the swearing in," Abbas told a news conference at the Rafah terminal on the Egyptian border.

Aides to Abbas had said he would not reject the cabinet even though he wants Hamas to change its government agenda, which calls for resistance against Israel by any means.

"I think the president will give them a chance," said senior Palestinian negotiator and Abbas confidant Saeb Erekat.

But Erekat said Abbas could exercise his constitutional right to fire the prime minister in the event of a crisis, such as a freezing of international aid.

Israel has said it will not deal with a Hamas government. Hamas is sworn to Israel's destruction and has rejected demands to recognize the Jewish state, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords conditions for continued Western aid.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel had not seen any changes in Hamas's attitude as it prepares to take office.

"The issue with Hamas isn't just recognition of Israel, it is also an extremist Islamist organization," she said.

"I think the international evaluation today is that they are still far from the three conditions the international community has set."

Haniyeh has declined to identify any ministers but Hamas sources said its own members would head key portfolios, including the interior, foreign affairs and finance posts.

A list obtained by media showed Hamas members would make up nearly half the 24-member cabinet. The rest would comprise independents and technocrats, including one Christian.

Abbas aides said they expected the confidence vote after the Israeli election. Hamas has an outright majority in parliament.

It is not clear how much of the estimated US$1 billion a year the Palestinians get in foreign aid might be withheld once a Hamas government is in power.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leader in Gaza whom Israel has tried to assassinate, would be foreign minister in the new cabinet, Hamas sources have said.

Another Hamas leader, Saeed Seyam, would become interior minister. Hamas sources have also said the group would name Omar Abdel-Razeq, a prominent West Bank economics professor and Hamas election official, as finance minister.

(China Daily March 20, 2006)


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