- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Islamic militant group Hamas said yesterday that it will put together the next Palestinian government by early March — timing that could help Israeli hawks in parliamentary elections.

Hamas officials said the group would stack top government positions with its own people, a move that could trigger an Israeli boycott of the Palestinian Authority. Yesterday, Hamas nominated three members for senior legislative posts, including parliament speaker.

Hamas, which calls for the elimination of Israel, trounced Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party in legislative elections last month. With a solid majority in the incoming parliament, Hamas is poised to form a Cabinet in the coming weeks, severely impeding Mr. Abbas’ ability to pursue peace talks with Israel. The new parliament holds its first session Saturday.

Israeli leaders have taken a tough stance toward Hamas, ruling out any talks with the group until it renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the front-runner in the Israeli election, said this week that “all contacts” with the Palestinians will be reviewed once Hamas takes office. He also has threatened to cut off monthly transfers of about $50 million in tax money to the cash-starved Palestinian government.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Yediot Ahronot newspaper that Israel would not deal with the Palestinians at all if Hamas taps its own people as prime minister and parliament speaker.

Yesterday, Hamas appointed Abdel Aziz Duaik, a geography professor from the West Bank, as speaker. The other appointments included Ahmed Bahar, a mosque preacher and operator of a charity in Gaza, as his deputy, and Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader from Gaza, as parliamentary faction leader.

In addition to his legislative powers, the speaker would become caretaker president if the elected head of the Palestinian Authority — Mr. Abbas — were to die.

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