Hamas formally takes power

Dr. Mariam Saleh, center, the only woman in the new Palestinian government, is sworn in along with other members of the Hamas cabinet in Ramallah on Wednesday.
Dr. Mariam Saleh, center, the only woman in the new Palestinian government, is sworn in along with other members of the Hamas cabinet in Ramallah on Wednesday.Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hamas formally took power Wednesday, and the newly installed prime minister pledged to cooperate with President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the defeated Fatah party.

At a news conference in Gaza after Abbas swore in Ismail Haniyeh and his Cabinet, Haniyeh said his relations with Abbas would stress “cooperation and harmony, based on the supreme interest of the people.” Haniyeh said he and Abbas would confront “Israeli aggression against the people” as well as internal chaos.

He called Hamas’ assumption of power “a great moment.”

The swearing-in ceremony, which came just a day after Israel’s national election, ended a two-month transition period of ambiguity since Hamas’ election victory in January.

The 24-member Cabinet includes 14 ministers who served time in Israeli prisons.

With a Hamas government installed, the lines of confrontation with Israel were clearly drawn. Hamas insists it will not soften its violent ideology toward the Jewish state.

Israel’s presumed prime minister-designate, Ehud Olmert, has countered that if Hamas will not bend, he will set the borders of a Palestinian state by himself and keep large areas of the West Bank.

International financial aid suspended
With Hamas at the helm, the Palestinian Authority also faces a crippling international economic boycott.

Canada said Wednesday it was suspending assistance because Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

It was the first government besides Israel to cut off financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas won the legislative elections in January, and other nations were expected to follow suit.

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement that Canada had no choice but to suspend aid and decline any contact with the new Hamas Cabinet.

“The stated platform of this government has not addressed the concerns raised by Canada and others concerning nonviolence, the recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the roadmap for peace,” MacKay said. “As a result, Canada will have no contact with the members of the Hamas Cabinet and is suspending assistance to the Palestinian Authority.”

“I think the Canadian position is hasty and shows obvious bias,” newly installed Palestinian Information Minister Youssef Rizka told The Associated Press in Gaza City. “What we need from the Canadian government is that it ask the Israeli authorities to admit that they are occupying Palestinian land.”

Still to provide humanitarian aid
However, Ottawa emphasized Wednesday that it would continue giving humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people through U.N. and nongovernment organizations.

And in Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said, “With Hamas taking over now, you can’t have business as usual.”

Israel suspended tens of millions of dollars in monthly tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas’ election victory last month, and Regev said the Israeli Cabinet would decide on additional sanctions next week.

Ottawa is a close ally of Israel, but also a strong proponent of Palestinian statehood. Ottawa conducted its first war games with the Israeli air force last spring, yet condemned Israel when it continued to build Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Abbas, a moderate, administered the oath to some of the Cabinet ministers in a brief ceremony at Gaza City’s parliament building.

With Israel banning the travel of Hamas leaders between the West Bank and Gaza, the remaining ministers held a separate ceremony in the West Bank. The two settings were hooked up by videoconference.

The first to be sworn in was Haniyeh, who walked along a red carpet, then placed his hand on a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Quran, laid out on a low table.

Haniyeh pledged to be “loyal to the homeland and its sacred places.”

An expressionless Abbas looked on.