Middle East

Hamas Forms a Cabinet, But Few Alliances

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Fresh from an election win, the militant Islamist group Hamas is prepared to present its list of new government members to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But much work remains before an effective government is in place.


The Islamist Hamas movement is set to present its new government to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in Gaza later today. Hamas is expected to keep major government portfolios such as foreign affairs and security for itself. Senior Palestinian officials say Abbas will not reject Hamas' cabinet lineup, but will encourage Hamas to make changes to its agenda.

NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.


Hamas tried hard to get a government that would include all Palestinian factions, especially Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction. But weeks of talks between Fatah and Hamas failed after Fatah continued to demand that Hamas accept previous agreements signed with Israel and give up violence and Hamas refused. So the new Palestinian government will be made up of Hamas officials, most of whom have little governing experience and independence.

Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat, who is close to Mahmoud Abbas, says he's disappointed that Hamas' Prime Minister Designate Ismail Haniyeh has refused to accept the idea of negotiations with Israel. But he hopes that once Hamas takes over, it will change

Mr. SAEB EREKAT (Chief Palestinian Negotiator): And at the same time, we hope that once in government, they will realize that they have to accept the obligation of the Authority, obligations, vis à vie agreements signed with Israel, (unintelligible) recognition, the two-state solution, the roadmap, and other obligations.

GRADSTEIN: Haniyeh has refused to give details of the government before he presents it to Abbas. But prominent names being mentioned include Mahmoud al-Zahar, a doctor who speaks English, as foreign minister. Zahar narrowly escaped an Israeli assassination attempt two years ago, in which one of his sons was killed, and is seen as a hardliner. Hamas leaders are also believed to have chosen Omar Abdul Razak, a prominent West Bank economics professor, as finance minister.

The United States and Israel have vowed not to provide any money directly to a Hamas-led finance ministry, which is responsible for paying the salaries of about 140,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority and security forces. Israel has already stopped the transfer of about $50 million a month of customs and tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.

The expected announcement of the Hamas cabinet comes amid what international officials say is a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel has kept the Carney Crossing between Gaza and Israel closed for most of the past two months, saying they have warnings of terrorist attacks there. Palestinians say many bakeries in Gaza have run out of flour and have closed.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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