Crucial backing for Hamas govt

The vote of confidence in the 24-member cabinet came as Israel voted in an election that could see the country’s borders with the West Bank fixed by 2010 without any consultation with the Palestinians.

It was approved by 71 votes to 36 of those lawmakers present after a long and fiery debate on the government’s political platform presented by incoming prime minister Ismail Haniya.

The line-up now needs to be rubber-stamped by Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas who has demanded changes to Hamas’s hardline platform but is in no real position to veto the government.

The vote was little more than a formality given Hamas’s huge majority and the administration may take office as early as Wednesday, two months after the Islamist movement’s landslide election victory on January 25 that sent shockwaves through Israel and the West.

Israel has refused to have any dealings with a government led by Hamas, which advocates the destruction of the Jewish state and has carried out dozens of suicide bombings over the past decade.

Mr Haniya stressed that the Palestinians were entitled to continue the “struggle” for independence and later paid homage to his group’s Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades military wing at a celebration party in Gaza City.

The incoming prime minister also renewed calls for dialogue with international players to end the conflict with the Jewish state.

He took a swipe at Washington after it rebuffed his offer of negotiations with the Middle East quartet which drew up a now moribund roadmap peace plan aiming for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

Mr Haniya’s programme came under fire from lawmakers representing the once dominant Fatah party of Abbas, which was routed by Hamas in the January 25 election.

Israel warned it would have no choice but to fix its borders unilaterally if the incoming government sustained Haniya’s policy.

But after exit polls suggested the ruling Kadima party of acting prime minister Ehud Olmert was set to emerge the largest party from Israeli elections, Mr Haniya hit out at its pledge to fix the Jewish state’s final borders by 2010, unilaterally if necessary.

“The Palestinian people cannot accept Olmert’s plan to fix the borders unilaterally,” he said, calling on Israel to take “courageous steps” to allow an “entirely sovereign” Palestinian state to come into being with Jerusalem as its capital.

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