Fatah gives tentative support

The head of Fatah’s bloc in parliament told reporters after talks with Hamas leaders that the faction had agreed in principle to join the cabinet, although the two sides still need to reach an accord on a common program.

“There is an agreement in principle and the intention is there (to participate in a coalition) but we must await the program,” Azzam al-Ahmed said.

“If we reach agreement, we will participate. If not, then we will be a constructive opposition,” he said.

Mahmud al-Zahar, who led the Hamas delegation at the Gaza City talks, also said “all the parties, including our brothers in Fatah, intend to participate in the government”.

Yesterday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is himself from Fatah, formally handed prospective Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniya, a letter requiring him to form the next government.

Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats in the Palestinian parliament at a general election four weeks ago, overwhelmingly beating Fatah, which won just 45.

However, despite Mr Ahmed’s comments, it is understood many Fatah members would rather sit back and watch Hamas grapple with a range of problems that include a growing financial crisis.

Financial crisis

Both the United States and European Union have threatened to slash funding unless Hamas commits itself to non-violence, accepts past agreements and recognises Israel’s right to exist.

Israel has refused point blank to deal with a Hamas-led government and has already imposed financial sanctions.

The sanctions include withholding customs duties worth around $US50 million ($A67.75 million) a month.

The money is collected by the Jewish state on behalf of the Palestinians and accounts for around one third of the Palestinian Authority’s budget.

The move has been criticised by the UN Middle East envoy and countries such as Egypt, but the United States has backed Israel’s “sovereign decision” to withhold the cash.

Condoleezza Rice

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo as part of a tour of Middle East allies, is trying to persuade Arab countries not bail out Hamas on a brief tour of the Middle East.

During a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on Thursday, she reiterated the tough stance of her administration, which lists Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

But Egypt has argued Washington had to respect the outcome of the democratic Palestinian elections and should not rush to boycott a government led by Hamas.

“We should give Hamas time,” Abul Gheit said. “I’m sure that Hamas will develop, will evolve. We should not prejudge the issue.”

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