Hamas takes power, vows to keep fighting Israel

By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH – Hamas vowed to keep fighting Israel as the militant group’s government began work on Thursday, ignoring Western isolation that has brought the Palestinian Authority to the brink of financial collapse.

The “Quartet” of Middl

e East mediators said the Hamas government had failed to commit itself to peace and warned the group that direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority would inevitably be affected.

Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal said the Islamist movement had not changed its stance now that it was in government in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

“We do not promise our people to turn Gaza into Hong Kong or Taiwan but we promise them a dignified and proud life behind the resistance in defence of their honour, their land and their pride,” Meshaal said on Al Jazeera Television from Beirut.

Israel, where interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is building a coalition after his Kadima party won polls this week but took less than a quarter of seats in parliament, has already withheld monthly Palestinian tax transfers of $50 million-$55 million.

A statement from the Quartet — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — noted with “grave concern” that Hamas had made no commitment to recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace accords.

“There inevitably will be an effect on direct assistance to that government and its ministries,” the statement said, adding that humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people should continue.

Diplomatic sources close to the Quartet said the statement stopped short of threatening an immediate cut in aid because divisions remained between Quartet members over how to pressure Hamas to soften its stance on Israel.

Hamas is formally sworn to Israel’s destruction and has the rebuffed the Quartet demands.

“We hope the Quartet reviews its position,” Planning Minister Samir Abu Eisha told Reuters. “The Europeans and others supported holding elections so, ethically, they should accept and respect the choice of the Palestinian people.”

He said aid cutbacks would have “dire consequences” for the Palestinian people, putting pressure on education, health and social services. “Unemployment will increase,” he added.

On Wednesday, the United States ordered its diplomats and contractors to have no contacts with Palestinian ministries, and Canada suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority.

CASH CRUNCH

Israel Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said an “unreformed” Hamas was not a party for dialogue.

“If through their stubbornness and short-sightedness and extremism, they isolate the Palestinian government and turn it into a pariah in the international community, they will have no one to blame but themselves,” Regev said.

One of the first challenges for Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and his cabinet, sworn in on Wednesday after winning January’s elections, will be paying March salaries for 140,000 Palestinian Authority staff that fall due within days.

February salaries to 140,000 Palestinian Authority workers, including security personnel, were paid weeks overdue.

In Ramallah, senior Finance Ministry official Jihad al-Wazir said Authority staff should get March salaries by mid-April.

Algeria deposited $34.5 million into the Authority account on Thursday, Wazir said. More money was expected from Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The Palestinian Authority relies on more than $1 billion in foreign aid each year.

Assuming the post of foreign minister in Gaza, hardline Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar told his staff not to have contacts with “hostile” countries and those that cut aid.

Olmert’s centrist Kadima party won Tuesday’s election on plans to set Israel’s final borders within four years, with or without the agreement of its Palestinian neighbour, by removing isolated settlements in the occupied West Bank and expanding bigger ones.

That would displace tens of thousands of settlers.

Palestinians say such a move would annex land and deny them the viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Final election results released late on Thursday showed Kadima won 29 seats in the 120-member parliament, up one from earlier counts. To form a government, Kadima will have to align with other parties. — Reuter