updated 3/27/2006 6:01:39 AM ET 2006-03-27T11:01:39

Incoming Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told parliament Monday that his government is ready to hold contacts with international Mideast mediators.

The so-called Quartet of mediators -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- are demanding that Hamas disarm, recognize Israel and accept past Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements. Hamas has so far rejected these conditions.

"The government is ready for dialogue with the Quartet, and looking for every possible way to end the conflict and the occupation," he said.

But Haniyeh, in a speech to the Palestinian parliament, gave no sign that the Islamic group would drop its commitment to destroy Israel or disarm.

“The great Palestinian people should not be punished for choosing their leadership in free and democratic elections,” Haniyeh told legislators at the opening of a parliamentary debate on his proposed Cabinet. “Those who believe that economic pressures will force our government into submission are wrong.”

Threat to cut off aid
Western countries have threatened to cut off direct aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority once the Hamas Cabinet is sworn in if the militant group does not renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel has already cut off the monthly transfer of tens of millions of dollars in taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinian government.

The Palestinian Authority, which is heavily dependent on the tax transfers and foreign aid, has not yet been able to pay February salaries for its 140,000 employees.

Haniyeh appealed to Arab businessmen to invest in the Palestinian areas to ease the financial hardships there.

“We are looking for their participation in easing our people’s suffering, and easing the hardships and finding jobs for youths and graduates,” he said.

Haniyeh also said he wanted his government to establish strong ties with the European Union.

In an effort to alleviate fears that aid to the government would end up being diverted to fund attacks on Israel, Haniyeh promised to create a transparent financial system so donors would be certain their money was being used for the intended purpose.

Hamas won Jan. 25 parliamentary elections in a landslide, giving it a majority of seats in the legislature. Hamas’ Cabinet is expected to easily pass a parliamentary vote of confidence later in the week.

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