- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Islamic militant group Hamas yesterday nominated a pragmatic former university administrator as the new Palestinian prime minister and said it hoped to create a broad-based government that could win international approval.

Officials said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas would give Ismail Haniyeh his formal letter of appointment today to head the first Hamas-led government.

Mr. Haniyeh, 43, said he would try to form a joint government with Fatah, the traditional Palestinian ruling party that Hamas trounced in last month’s parliamentary election. Fatah, the party of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, so far has refused to join the government.

Mr. Haniyeh also criticized Israel’s decision over the weekend to freeze tax funds to the Palestinian Authority in response to last month’s vote.

“The Israelis are trying to starve innocent people by taking money from our taxes, and we are going to fight this by all legal means,” he said.

Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel and is responsible for dozens of suicide bombings, is trying to entice other Palestinian factions to join a coalition, hoping to persuade the world that the new Cabinet should not be the target of a boycott.

Another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, met with other militant Palestinian factions — Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) — to try to gain their support.

Islamic Jihad leader Sheik Nafez Azzam said his group, which boycotted the election, would not join the government. The PFLP, which won just three seats, did not give an answer.

The Israeli Cabinet decided Sunday to stop the transfer of the roughly $55 million a month it collects in taxes and tariffs on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The Cabinet declined to adopt tougher restrictions, including sealing off the Gaza Strip from Israel, barring thousands of Palestinian laborers from entering Israel and eliminating all trade with the impoverished area.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talked yesterday with partners in the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators about the financial situation of the Palestinian territories and their new leaders, the State Department said.

Many Western countries have threatened to cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for the Palestinian Authority if Hamas does not become more moderate, but Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, a regional fundamentalist group, have called for Muslims worldwide to make up any shortfall for a Hamas-led government.

Arab nations meeting in Algiers yesterday said aid should continue, but it is not clear whether they will be able to fill the void in the foreign financing that has provided the bulk of the Palestinians’ $1.9 billion annual budget.

Acting Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for the international community to have “a united front regarding the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority in the Hamas era.”

Israel’s decision to freeze transfer of tax money collected for the Palestinians drew criticism from Alvaro de Soto, the U.N. envoy to the Middle East, who said the move was premature.

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