GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, AP -Hamas said it is ready to announce the formation of its government Saturday, two weeks ahead of a deadline but apparently without coalition partners that might have softened the militants’ image.
In another possible setback, the Hamas government program is not expected to win the approval of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is to meet with the group’s leaders in Gaza Saturday. Abbas’ aides said the Palestinian leader considers the Hamas platform too vague and wants it rewritten.
Hamas cannot present its Cabinet to parliament for approval without backing from the moderate Abbas, who was elected separately and wields considerable authority. However, Abbas cannot impose his own Cabinet lineup on Hamas, which swept January parliament elections and controls an absolute majority in the legislature.
Abbas is expected to put off the approval of a new government until after Israel’s March 28 election, but his confidants say he is not ready to force a full-blown political crisis with the Islamic militants.
The wrangling over the new government comes at a time when some officials in Abbas’ Fatah Party are calling on him to resign and to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, to protest Israel’s raid of a West Bank prison earlier this week. The raid, in which troops snatched Ahmed Saadat, the leader of a small PLO faction, and other suspects in the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister, was a blow to Abbas’ prestige.
If the Palestinian Authority were to be dissolved, Israel — as occupier of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — would be forced to assume responsibility for some 3 million Palestinians living there. The dissolution would also render Hamas’ election victory irrelevant.
Abbas said earlier this week he was not ready yet to break up the Palestinian Authority.
In other developments Saturday, Israeli troops left a West Bank village after a failed overnight arrest raid. At the start of the operation late Friday, a 10-year-old Palestinian girl was killed when soldiers fired at a car she was riding in with her older brother and uncle, Palestinian witnesses and Israel Radio said. The witnesses said the soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and fired without warning. The army declined comment.
After the initial shooting, soldiers surrounded a house where they believed three militants were holed up, and an army bulldozer began demolishing the building. However, the fugitives escaped.
In Gaza City, the designated Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was to hold a news conference Saturday to announce the formation of the Hamas government, officials in the group said.
Hamas did not set a time for the Haniyeh news conference, and officials said they are still waiting for a final word Saturday from one small PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, on whether it would join the government. PFLP officials have given conflicting signals on whether they would join.
In the likely event that Hamas is left without coalition partners, it is expected to reserve the key Cabinet posts — finance, foreign affairs, interior — for itself, while staffing lesser positions with technocrats and independents.
Abbas was to travel from the West Bank to Gaza on Saturday for a meeting with Hamas leaders, his office said. In the meeting, Hamas is to present its Cabinet lineup and program. Abbas aides said he was expected to ask for revisions in the Hamas program.
Hamas has rejected demands that it moderate its views, despite threats by the West that it will cut off substantial foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority unless the new government renounces violence, recognizes Israel and promises to honor existing peace agreements.