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Hamas head named Palestinian prime minister

Hamas leader Haniyeh waves in Gaza
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh waves after receiving an official letter Tuesday to form a Palestinian government.Suhaib Salem / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Palestinian president appointed a Hamas leader considered a pragmatist as the next prime minister Tuesday, and Israel’s acting leader said he was not ruling out the possibility of peace talks.

The Palestinian news agency released a picture of President Mahmoud Abbas handing Ismail Haniyeh the official letter of appointment Tuesday. Haniyeh, who will be the first Hamas premier, has five weeks to form a government.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday he was not ruling out the possibility of future peace talks with the Palestinians despite Hamas’ overwhelming victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Olmert told Israel TV that the chances of reaching a “quick agreement” with the Palestinians were smaller now that Hamas was in charge.

“But the hope has not disappeared, and I am responsible for both things, the battle against Hamas and maintaining hope, the chance to reach an agreement,” Olmert said.

The Haniyeh nomination was an apparent attempt by Hamas to defuse international fears that the Palestinians will be led by what Israel calls a “terrorist authority.”

The Islamic militant group also has reached out to other factions, including the ruling Fatah party, to join a broad-based Cabinet that might stand a chance of gaining international approval.

Israel tries to isolate new government
The United States and European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization and Israel has urged the international community to join it in isolating the Palestinian government.

Israel and the Western nations have demanded Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas leaders have resisted calls to moderate.

After Hamas took over parliament Saturday, Israel froze the transfer of roughly $50 million in tax funds to the Palestinian Authority. Western nations have threatened to halt hundreds of millions of dollars of vital foreign aid once a Hamas Cabinet takes office.

Hamas has said it would make up for the lost funds with new donations from Arab and Muslim nations.

That plan, however, hit a serious setback when Arab League foreign ministers failed to agree on new aid for the Palestinians.

“The aid is destined for the Palestinian people and not for Hamas,” Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in an appeal for donations during a meeting in Algeria that ended late Monday.

Trying to drum up support for the incoming government, Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal visited Iran, whose leaders called on Muslim nations around the world to make up the Palestinians’ budget shortfall.

“Since the divine treasures are infinite, you should not be concerned about economic issues,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as telling Mashaal on Monday. “If you work for God, he will provide for you.”

Israel’s former army chief of staff, Moshe Yaalon, said that to effectively fight a Hamas-led government, Israel and the international community must maintain a united bloc.

“We need to stop interpreting every smile of a Hamas leader as a sign of moderation and willingness to compromise,” Yaalon said in comments broadcast on Israel Radio.

Clashes continue
Eighteen Palestinians were wounded in clashes Tuesday with the Israeli army in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, Palestinian officials said. Israeli troops also found more than 150 pounds of explosives in Nablus.

The army has been hunting for militants in the Balata camp for three days. Palestinians said they were running out of food and water, and the army allowed five Hamas lawmakers to bring residents supplies. The lawmakers said they were dressed as doctors and didn’t identify themselves as Hamas activists.

“I have 10 people in my home. Since yesterday I have only had breakfast, nothing else. We don’t have anything else to eat,” said 67-year-old Balata resident Mohammed Zarhan.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army removed a small unauthorized West Bank settlement outpost near Jerusalem on Tuesday, military officials said. Soldiers met no violent resistance when they dismantled Givat Haor, which consisted of a tent inhabited by three people.

Earlier this month, some 200 people were injured when Israeli forces clashed with settlers during the evacuation of part of the Amona outpost. Under the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan, Israel has pledged to remove about two dozen unauthorized West Bank outposts, but has yet to fulfill its commitment.