- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Ismail Haniyeh of the militant group Hamas was designated Palestinian prime minister yesterday, but he refused to respond to a demand to adhere to interim peace deals reached with Israel.

After accepting the letter designating him as prime minister, Mr. Haniyeh met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for more than two hours, their second such session in two days.

Mr. Abbas heads Fatah, the party Hamas trounced in last month’s Palestinian parliamentary elections. Mr. Abbas, who was elected president last year, now will have to deal with a Hamas parliament and Cabinet.

The letter naming Mr. Haniyeh as prime minister also included a one-page summary of Mr. Abbas’ political positions, Abbas aides said.

Mr. Abbas has said the Hamas-led government must accept the agreements made by previous governments, including interim peace accords with Israel and the internationally backed “road map” plan for a Palestinian state.

Mr. Haniyeh was noncommittal. “We will study it and, God willing, we will answer soon to Abu Mazen,” he said, referring to Mr. Abbas by his nickname.

Hamas does not recognize a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the militant group has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel. Since the election, Hamas has rebuffed demands from Israel, the United States, the United Nations and Europe to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Mr. Haniyeh has five weeks to form a Cabinet. He began holding talks with several small factions after the Hamas-dominated parliament took office Saturday. Mr. Haniyeh says he wants to bring Fatah into his government, but Fatah has refused.

Mr. Haniyeh, 46, also said it was premature to discuss incorporating the Hamas military wing into the Palestinian security services.

Hamas’ rise to power has damaged chances of renewing peace negotiations. Israel refuses to deal with the group until it renounces violence and recognizes the Jewish state.

Further diminishing peace prospects, exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal was in Iran, Israel’s staunchest enemy, seeking to drum up support.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the chances of a “quick agreement” with the Palestinians are lower now that Hamas is in charge.

“But the hope has not disappeared, and I am responsible for both things, the battle against Hamas and maintaining hope, the chance to reach an agreement,” he told Israeli television.

Mr. Abbas has suggested he could handle peace negotiations with Israel while letting Hamas focus on its domestic agenda.

Israeli officials say they will not deal with a “two-headed government” that includes a party committed to the country’s destruction. After Hamas took over parliament, Israel froze the transfer of $50 million in tax funds to the Palestinian Authority each month.

The United States and the European Union, which consider Hamas a terrorist group, have threatened to halt hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinians.

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