Abbas' office confirms leader invited Hamas to join cabinet
The Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post - July 1, 2005
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked Hamas to join his Cabinet to improve prospects of a peaceful takeover of the Gaza Strip following Israel's withdrawal this summer, Abbas' office confirmed Saturday.
Hamas' West Bank leader, Hassan Yousef, confirmed the group was considering the offer.
A Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, had first reported the offer on Friday.
The group, which wants to see Israel destroyed, is Abbas' greatest rival. But Abbas, a weak leader, cannot ignore Hamas' strong grass-roots presence in Gaza or the group's demand to help rule the area after Israel's pullout, which is to begin in August.
Israel and the United States have demanded that Abbas disarm Hamas and other groups, a step he has so far refused to take, fearing it would provoke bloodshed among Palestinians. He has chosen instead to co-opt militants.
Israel, which is afraid Abbas is too weak to prevent chaos in Gaza after the pullout, denounced the idea of Hamas' joining the Palestinian government.
"Hamas is a murderous terrorist organization responsible for countless acts of senseless violence against innocent civilians," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told The Associated Press. "Hamas is no partner for us in any sort of political process. They are part of the problem, not part of the solution."
Abbas made the offer earlier Wednesday after Hamas demanded a special Islamic committee be formed to oversee the transfer of powers in Gaza. Abbas invited them to join his Cabinet instead.
The Palestinian leader has promised a smooth handover in Gaza and a clampdown on militants who would fire on withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers.
But a fragile truce Abbas reached with Hamas and other militant groups at the beginning of the year has been unraveling as the pullout approaches. Militants agreed to abide by an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire declared in February, but their attacks on Israeli targets have increased in recent weeks.
Abbas first invited Hamas to join his Cabinet two months ago, but Hamas rejected the offer because it was conditioned on the group's agreeing to a delay in parliamentary elections. The July balloting was delayed anyway until the end of the year.
The Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Abbas told the group that if it joins his Cabinet now, elections would be held shortly after Israel completes its Gaza pullout in the fall.
Earlier this year, Hamas won municipal elections in several West Bank and Gaza districts.