Hamas Takes Over

Newly-elected deputies of the Islamist movement Hamas (from L to R) Said Syam, Ismail Haniyeh, Abdel Fatah Doukhan, and Mahmud al-Zahar meet to prepare for the first session of the new Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) at the home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in the al-Shatti refugee camp in Gaza City, 17 February 2006. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS (Photo credit should read MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images
Hamas on Saturday rejected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' demand that the Islamic militant group back his moderate policies, including negotiations with Israel.

Earlier Saturday, Abbas had asked Hamas to form the next government, after the new Hamas-dominated parliament was sworn in. In his speech, Abbas said the next government must recognize existing peace agreements and commit to peace negotiations as the ``sole ... strategic choice'' of the Palestinians.

"Hamas reasserts that when it comes to the political program, it rejects negotiations with the occupation (Israel), especially since it (Israel) still practices collective punishment against our people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told The Associated Press in Gaza City.

Hamas controls 74 of the 132 seats in parliament and Hamas officials have said their top choice for prime minister is the group's Gaza leader, Ismail Haniyeh.

Israel and the international community have said they will not recognize a Hamas government if the group, officially sworn to Israel's destruction, does not renounce violence, recognize Israel and honor all past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Hamas' surprise victory in the Jan. 25 parliamentary election ousted Abbas' Fatah Party.

The Islamic militant group has staunchly opposed the interim autonomy agreements, known as the Oslo Accords, which were signed in the 1990s. However, Abbas offered Hamas a sharp warning about breaking the agreements.

"We have not and will not accept any questioning of the accords' legitimacy," Abbas told parliament. "Indeed, from the hour they were endorsed, they became a political reality to which we remain committed."

Mahmoud Zahar, a fiery Hamas leader newly elected to serve in parliament, called Saturday a "historic day," and pledged that Hamas would serve the Palestinian people.

"We have to be the new servants for the Palestinian issue, the Palestinian detainees, the Palestinian land, the Holy Land and also for the people," Zahar told reporters when he arrived at the Gaza government building where the parliament session was to be held via videoconference.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned Iran and other Middle East powers on Friday of the consequences for the region of giving money to a Palestinian government led by Hamas.

She also expressed doubt that the militant Islamic group could raise badly needed international financing unless it changes its policies.

"I would hope that any state that is considering funding Hamas, a Hamas-led government, would think about the implications of that for the Middle East" and for the goal of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Rice said.