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Hamas government approved, vows to fight Israel

Written by: Staff
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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.

Chanting ''God is Greatest'' after the 71-to-36 vote, Hamas lawmakers hugged and kissed a teary-eyed Ismail Haniyeh, the incoming Palestinian prime minister, who vowed not to abandon the fight against Israel.

''The Koran is our constitution, Jihad is our way, and death for the sake of God is our highest aspiration,'' Hamas lawmaker Hamed Bitawi said.

Tens of thousands of Hamas supporters later poured onto the streets of the Gaza Strip in celebratory rallies.

''We cannot recognise Israel,'' Hamas's newly-approved Minister of Information, Youssef Rizka, told one cheering crowd.

''The land of Palestine is ours and not for the Jews.'' The comments stood in contrast to a more conciliatory speech by Haniyeh on Monday in which he stressed the new government's push for peace and dialogue. The earlier speech drew fire from some lawmakers for not focusing more on fighting Israel.

The vote of confidence 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.

The new cabinet, dominated by Hamas loyalists, was expected to be sworn in tomorrow by President Mahmoud Abbas, whose long-dominant Fatah faction refused to join the government.

Hamas, committed by its charter to Israel's destruction, 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.

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

In contrast today, Haniyeh said: ''We were born from the womb of resistance, we will protect resistance and the arm of resistance will not be touched.'' Addressing Mariam Farhat, a newly-elected Hamas lawmaker whose three sons died fighting Israel, Haniyeh said: ''This is the fruit of the sacrifices by martyrs, including your sons. You've got to be proud of this day.'' Israel seized on Haniyeh's change of tone, saying it reflected the incoming government's ''extremist'' policies.

''I hope the sort of remarks we heard today help to dissolve any possible illusion that might exist as to the true character of this new Palestinian leadership,'' said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

The United States, grouped in the Quartet with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, has also rejected talks with Hamas until it renounces violence, accepts interim peace deals and recognises Israel's right to exist.

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

After the vote, Haniyeh and several newly-approved cabinet ministers prayed at the house of Hamas co-founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in 2004.

''We are coming to congratulate you and to say that the blood of our Sheikh (Yassin) did not go in vain,'' Haniyeh told Yassin's widow.

REUTERS PDS RN0109

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