RAMALLAH, West Bank, AP – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked his most formidable rival, the militant Islamic Hamas, to join his Cabinet ahead of Israel”s Gaza pullout, and the group is considering the offer, officials on both sides said Saturday.
Israel denounced the idea of Hamas” joining the Palestinian government, calling the group "a murderous terrorist organization."
Hamas has strong grass-roots support in Gaza and has demanded to help rule the area after Israel”s pullout slated to begin in August. The group was expected to make a strong showing in Palestinian parliamentary elections later this year and recently won municipal elections in several West Bank and Gaza districts.
By incorporating Hamas into his government, Abbas hopes to improve prospects of a smooth takeover at a time when violence in Gaza has heated up.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said this was not the first time Abbas has offered to bring the militant group into his Cabinet.
"Our policy is a policy of one authority, one gun and we welcome all political parties to participate as such," Erekat said.
Abbas first invited Hamas to join his Cabinet two months ago, but Hamas rejected the offer because it was conditioned on the group”s agreeing to a delay in parliamentary elections. The vote originally scheduled for July has been delayed until the end of the year.
Hamas” West Bank leader, Hassan Yousef, said the group was considering the latest offer from Abbas.
The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization and refuses to deal with it.
Israel and the United States have demanded that Abbas disarm Hamas and other militants, a step he has refused to take for fear it would provoke bloodshed among Palestinians. He has chosen instead to co-opt militants.
"Hamas is a murderous terrorist organization responsible for countless acts of senseless violence against innocent civilians," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "Hamas is no partner for us in any sort of political process. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution."
Abbas made the offer Wednesday after Hamas demanded a special Islamic committee be formed to oversee the transfer of powers in Gaza. Abbas invited them to join his Cabinet instead.
The Palestinian leader has promised a smooth handover in Gaza and a clampdown on militants who would fire on Israeli soldiers and about 8,500 Jewish settlers who will be withdrawing. He has also said he would not allow a land grab after the summer evacuation.
But a fragile truce Abbas reached with Israel in February has been unraveling as the pullout approaches. Hamas and other militant groups who agreed to honor the truce have stepped up attacks on Israelis in recent weeks.
Abbas is to meet Palestinian militant leaders living in self-imposed exile in Damascus during a visit to Syria next week, his National Security Adviser Jibril Rajoub said Saturday. He said Abbas is to hold a first meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday.