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Hamas warns Abbas not to make changes
Updated: 2006-02-09 09:25

Hamas warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday not to make changes in the government without consulting it — the first clear sign the Islamic militant group plans to play hardball as both sides begin to jockey for positions in the new leadership.

Exiled political leader Khaled Mashaal reiterated that Hamas would not bow to Arab and international pressure to recognize Israel and that the group — once in power — would not act to prevent militant attacks on the Jewish state.

Mashaal took the tough stance after three days of talks between Hamas leaders and Egyptian officials — the group's first diplomatic foray seeking Arab support since it scored a surprise victory in Palestinian elections on Jan. 25.

Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar listens during a news conference in Cairo, February 8, 2006.
Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar listens during a news conference in Cairo, February 8, 2006.[AP]
Hoping to avert a collapse of the peace process, Egyptian officials had said ahead of the talks that they would urge Hamas to recognize Israel and build a coalition government with Abbas' more moderate Fatah party.

But Mashaal, who is based in Damascus, and other Hamas leaders appeared confident in their strength, offering at most a continuation of the truce in anti-Israeli attacks that they called a year ago.

The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad, meanwhile, declared it would forge ahead with attacks against Israel — signaling that even if Hamas eventually bows to pressure, other Palestinian radicals will not. Islamic Jihad has been responsible for all six suicide bombings since Palestinian factions agreed to a cease-fire a year ago.

Mashaal said Hamas would not renounce violence or act to stop anti-Israeli attacks because it was obliged to resist what it regards as Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.

"We will not stand against the resistance, we will not condemn any operation and will never arrest any mujahed (holy warrior)," he said.

The Hamas leader told the British Broadcasting Corp. earlier Wednesday that a long-term cease-fire with Israel was possible if the Jewish state withdrew to its 1967 borders.

In Washington, Israel's new foreign minister Tzipi Livni said during a visit that her country should not be bound by agreements to give a Hamas-led Palestinian government customs duties and taxes it collects on the Palestinians because it considers the group terrorists.

Israel has agreed to turn over about $50 million a month so long as the current caretaker government of Abbas remains in power.

"We are talking about the Hamas, which is a designated terrorist organization," Livni said during a news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It's something unacceptable to demand Israel implement its role in these agreements while the other side doesn't even agree that we have the right to exist, simple as that."

The United States has also branded Hamas a terrorist organization.

Speaking at the same news conference, Rice said the international community led by the United States need to send a strong message to Hamas that terror is unacceptable and it must renounce violence and recognize Israel.

Meanwhile, Mashaal issued a strong warning to Abbas, known by his nickname Abu Mazen, not to make political changes behind Hamas' back.

"This is a message to Abu Mazen and other brothers in the authority to stop issuing decrees and decisions (before consulting us) ... as if to throw them in our face," Mashaal told journalists in Cairo. "We will not deal with them as legitimate ... no one can deceive us."

The warning was a reaction to reports that Abbas would try to wrest control of security forces from a Hamas-led government. Palestinian papers reported Abbas planned to appoint his current Interior Minister Nasser Youssef as deputy commander of the Palestinian security forces. An official in Abbas' office denied the reports.

Under Palestinian law, Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority is responsible for foreign intelligence and national defense, while the yet-to-be-named prime minister is responsible for internal security, police and civil defense.

Hamas also was upset when Palestinian Parliament speaker Rauhi Fattouh appointed Fatah activist Ibrahim Khreisheh as director general of the legislative council after last month's parliamentary election in which Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats.

Abbas has said he will ask Hamas to form the new government.

Saeb Erekat, a senior Fatah official, said it was "too early for Mr. Mashaal to jump to conclusions about various appointments."

"We urge Hamas to accept the Arab peace plan of 2002 that calls for a two-state solution and to accept the Palestinian Authority's obligations and commitments and to put the interests of the Palestinian people before anything else," he told The Associated Press.

Another top Hamas leader said earlier Wednesday that Jamal al-Khudairi, an independent legislator and businessman backed by Hamas, would be named Palestinian prime minister.

Al-Khudairi was unanimously picked for the post in a Cairo meeting of Hamas leaders from Syria and from Gaza, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the group has not yet put the proposal to Abbas.

Asked about the report, Mashaal said Hamas had not decided.

"Al-Khudairi is a respected Palestinian personality," was all he said.

Al-Khudairi, about 50, is board chairman of Gaza's Islamic University and owns the biggest mattress factory in the West Bank and Gaza. In his campaign speeches, he did not address violence or the recognition of Israel, but stuck to issues such as education and job training. He has, however, talked of the need for internal Palestinian reform.

If al-Khudairi is not accepted in negotiations with Abbas or turns down the nomination, the group would nominate Palestinian Trade and Economics Minister Mazen Sonnoqrot, another independent with Hamas sympathies, the Hamas official said.

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