Hamas presents Palestinian cabinet to Abbas

GAZA - Hamas presented its cabinet to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday after the Islamic militant group failed to persuade any rival factions to join a government Israel and the United States have pledged to shun.

Hamas's plan to appoint party loyalists to top ministerial posts, in the absence of coalition partners, was an early signal of the success of Israeli and US efforts to isolate the Palestinian election victor sworn to Israel's destruction.

Prime Minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh gave the Hamas cabinet list to Abbas in Gaza as reporters looked on.

Officials from Abbas's Fatah faction said he would not try to block parliamentary approval of the government but would issue a letter detailing his reservations about its policies.

Moderate parties had come under US pressure to shun an administration led by Hamas, which has rejected demands that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords - conditions for continued Western aid.

Hamas, which eclipsed the long-dominant Fatah faction in the January 25 poll, completed its cabinet just over a week before Israel's own general election on March 28.

Abbas said before meeting Haniyeh that parliament would convene soon for a vote of confidence in the new government.

"I think the president will give them a chance," said senior Palestinian negotiator and Abbas confidant Saeb Erekat.

But Erekat said Abbas, an advocate of a negotiated settlement with Israel, could exercise his constitutional right to fire the prime minister in the event of a crisis, such as a freezing of international aid.

In talks with Hamas before the Abbas-Haniyeh meeting, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it had turned down an offer to join the government, becoming the last faction to give a final "no".

Jamil al-Majdalawi, a PFLP leader, told Reuters that Hamas's political platform did not include "a fundamental point for us - that the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) is the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people".

At US-hosted talks near Tel Aviv on Sunday, Israel and the Palestinians decided on arrangements for basic foodstuffs to enter Gaza to ward off a humanitarian crisis in the territory.

Richard Jones, the US ambassador to Israel, said after the session at his residence that food and other essential goods would be sent from Egypt to Gaza through Israel's southern Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday.

Palestinians in Gaza have reported shortages of bread and other staples as a result of Israel's off-and-on closure of the Karni terminal that handles most goods moving between the Gaza Strip and the Jewish state.

Israel, which pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip last year, has cited security concerns for shutting Karni. It has kept the crossing closed since March 13 and said it has no immediate plans to reopen it.

Israeli officials had proposed a limited transfer of goods at Kerem Shalom, inside Israel at the corner of the border with Gaza and Egypt. Palestinians had said Kerem Shalom was too small to meet the needs of 1.4 million Gazans.

Signalling the Palestinians still wanted Karni to serve as the main passage for commercial goods, Erekat said a separate US-Israeli-Palestinian meeting would also be held "to put into effect security arrangements for the entry of goods at Karni".

Israel has said it would not deal with a Hamas government but would not restrict humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.

- REUTERS

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