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Palestinian government led by Hamas begins work

Written by: Staff

GAZA, Mar 30 (Reuters) Hamas vowed to keep fighting Israel as the militant group's government began work today, ignoring Western isolation that has brought the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial collapse.

Hamas's exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal, said the movement had not changed its stance now that it was in government in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

''We do not promise our people to turn Gaza into Hong Kong or Taiwan but we promise them a dignified and proud life behind the resistance in defence of their honour, their land and their pride,'' Meshaal said on Al Jazeera Television from Beirut.

''Our battle is only against the Zionist occupation,'' Meshaal said, speaking at an event attended by Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of Lebanon's Hizbollah, another sworn enemy of Israel.

One of the first challenges for Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet, sworn in on Wednesday after winning January elections, will be paying March salaries for 140,000 Palestinian Authority staff that fall due within days.

Israel, where interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is building a coalition after his Kadima party won polls this week but took less than a quarter of seats in parliament, has already cut monthly Palestinian tax transfers of 50-55 million dollars.

Yesterday, the United States ordered its diplomats and contractors to have no contacts with Palestinian ministries, and Canada suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Hamas is committed to Israel's destruction and has rebuffed demands from the ''Quartet'' of Middle East peace mediators to recognise the Jewish state, renounce violence and abide by peace accords or risk losing vital aid.

More Reuters SB DB1822

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