GAZA (Reuters) – Hamas has chosen a candidate to take over as prime minister from one of its leaders once agreement on a unity government is finalized with President Mahmoud Abbas, a spokesman for the Hamas-led administration said on Monday.
Ghazi Hamad declined to identify the Islamist group’s proposed replacement for Ismail Haniyeh in a deal with Abbas’s Fatah group that Palestinians hope can ease Western sanctions aimed at pressuring Hamas to soften its anti-Israel line.
“There has been an agreement within Hamas over the name, which will be announced to the president in a meeting between him and the prime minister,” Hamad said, indicating the group reserved the right to pick the head of a new cabinet.
Hamad did not say whether Hamas’s candidate belonged to the movement, which advocates Israel’s destruction.
“We are exerting every possible effort to conclude this in the near future. If we agree on the issue of the prime minister between the president and the party that names the prime minister, all other issues will be easy,” Hamad said.
There was no immediate comment from Abbas, whose faction was defeated by Hamas in a Palestinian election in January.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Abbas aide, spoke prior to Hamad’s comments of naming “an independent prime minister” who would help “lift the siege imposed on the Palestinians.”
Hamas lawmaker and senior leader Yahya Moussa announced on Sunday an agreement in principle with Fatah on a unity government that would not be headed by Haniyeh.
But Hamas spokesmen have stressed it will never recognize Israel or join a government that did, rejecting one of the main conditions set by the “Quartet” of Middle East peace brokers for renewing direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Mustafa Barghouthi, an independent lawmaker who has been mediating between Hamas leaders and Abbas, confirmed late on Sunday that a tentative deal had been made.
“There is approval to form a new government headed by a new prime minister,” Barghouthi said. “We are preparing for a meeting between President Abbas and Prime Minister Haniyeh very soon.”
In violence in the northern Gaza Strip, an Israeli aircraft fired a missile near a school bus, killing a 16-year-old Palestinian and wounding four other people, witnesses and hospital officials said.
None of the casualties had been on board the bus, although one of the wounded was a teacher, the witnesses said.
An Israeli military spokesman said the strike in the town of Beit Lahiya targeted Palestinians who had come to retrieve launchers used to fire rockets into the Jewish state.
Israeli forces have been operating in Beit Lahiya and nearby Beit Hanoun since last week in a bid to beat back Palestinian rocket crews and gunmen.
At least 49 Palestinians, more than half of them gunmen, and an Israeli soldier have been killed in six days of fighting.