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Palestinian parliament approves Hamas government

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Mar 28 (Reuters) A Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament approved the Islamic militant group's cabinet and programme today, clearing the way for it to take control of the government two months after its shock election victory.

Just before the assembly voted 71 to 36 in favour of the new government, Hamas's prime minister-designate, Ismail Haniyeh, vowed not to give up the fight against Israel.

''We were born from the womb of resistance, we will protect resistance and the arm of resistance will not be touched,'' Haniyeh said one day after delivering a more conciliatory speech where he called for a ''just peace'' in the region.

Hamas members in the chamber chanted ''God is Greatest''.

The vote came on the day Israel held a general election that interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was expected to win on a platform of imposing Israel's final borders with the Palestinians if peacemaking remains stalled.

A Palestinian cabinet led by Hamas's prime minister-designate, Ismail Haniyeh, and dominated by Hamas loyalists, was expected to be sworn in tomorrow by President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas, which swept Palestinian elections in January, formed a government alone after failing to persuade the long-dominant Fatah and other factions to join a coalition.

Hamas inherits an aid-dependent Palestinian Authority that is on the brink of financial collapse.

A threatened cut in Western aid could make it more difficult for Hamas to pay the salaries of an estimated 140,000 Palestinian Authority workers, including security personnel. Aid groups say a funding crisis could lead to chaos and violence.

In presenting the cabinet for parliamentary approval yesterday, Haniyeh sought to reach out to the West by saying his government was ready for talks with the Quartet of West Asia mediators on bringing a ''just peace'' to the region.

But the United States, grouped in the Quartet with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, quickly rejected talks with Hamas unless it renounced violence, accepted interim peace deals and recognised Israel's right to exist.

HAMAS SLATES US ''BIAS'' Haniyeh said the negative response underscored what he called the Bush administration's ''bias'' against the Palestinians.

''We urge the American administration to be more rational and to avoid extremism in positions and to stop making prejudgments on a government that emerged through the ballot box,'' Haniyeh said.

Israel also dismissed Haniyeh's appeal for peace talks, saying it saw no change of policy by the group, whose charter calls for destroying the Jewish state.

A campaign by Israel and the United States aims to pressure a Hamas-led government to change its policies or face economic and diplomatic isolation.

In a recent report, the World Bank said a sharp cut in funding from donors could push the West Bank and Gaza into a deep economic depression. Israel has already frozen tax revenue transfers in a bid to isolate Hamas.

As many as one in four Palestinians is dependent on wages from the Palestinian Authority, prompting warnings from international Middle East envoy James Wolfensohn that violence could break out if salaries are not paid.

Hamas has carried out nearly 60 suicide bombings against Israelis since 2000, but has largely abided by a year-old truce.

Reuters DKS GC2018

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