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Hamas Ready to Announce New Gov't; to Meet With Abbas Sunda

Hamas said Saturday it has formed a government two weeks before a deadline but apparently without coalition partners that might have softened the Islamic militant group's image.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has to approve the Cabinet lineup before it goes to parliament, is set to meet with the group's leaders in Gaza on Sunday. The meeting initially was set for Saturday.

Initially, Abbas aides said the Palestinian leader considered the Hamas platform too vague and would ask that it be rewritten, but they backtracked Saturday.

Abbas was elected separately and wields considerable authority. However, he cannot impose his own Cabinet lineup on Hamas, which swept January parliament elections and controls an absolute majority in the legislature.

Abbas is expected to put off parliamentary approval of the new government until after Israel's March 28 election. But spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said the president would accept the Hamas Cabinet even if it does not adopt his more moderate platform.

"Abu Mazen will not place obstacles before the Hamas government," Abu Rdeneh told The Associated Press. However, Abbas — widely known as Abu Mazen — will advise Hamas it could "get into trouble" by refusing to accept a more pragmatic program, Abu Rdeneh said.

The United States, Israel and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization. The West has threatened to cut off substantial foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority unless the new government renounces violence, recognizes Israel and promises to honor existing peace agreements.

Mahmoud Zahar, a hard-line Hamas firebrand, almost definitely will be named Foreign Minister, according to a preliminary list of Cabinet ministers given to The Associated Press by officials in Hamas and the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the list has not been finalized.

Said Siyam, a popular Hamas lawmaker from Gaza, has been tapped for the Interior and Civil Affairs Ministries, which control three of the Palestinian's five security forces and is responsible for contacts with Israel's security services, the officials said.

Siyam, who is considered a relative moderate, was among hundreds of militants deported by Israel to south Lebanon in 1992. He recently joined a Hamas delegation to Moscow, where they met top Russian officials.

If the PFLP decides to join the Hamas government, it will be awarded the Finance Ministry, the officials said. If the PFLP stays out, Omar Abdel-Razek, a professor at Nablus' a-Najah University, will be named Finance Minister. Abdel-Razek was released from an Israeli prison just a few days ago.

Two professors from the Islamic University in Gaza are likely to be named to the public works and higher education ministries, the officials said.

The wrangling over the new government comes at a time when some officials in Abbas' Fatah Party are calling on him to resign and to dissolve the Palestinian Authority to protest Israel's raid of a West Bank prison earlier this week.

Troops snatched Ahmed Saadat, the leader of a small PLO faction, and other suspects in the 2001 assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister in the raid, which dealt a major blow to Abbas' prestige.

If the Palestinian Authority dissolved, Israel — as occupier of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — would be forced to assume responsibility for some 3 million Palestinians living there. The dissolution also would render Hamas' election victory irrelevant.

On Saturday, Abu Rdeneh said Abbas will not resign or break up the Palestinian Authority.

In other developments Saturday, Israeli troops left a West Bank village after failing to arrest three militants overnight.

At the start of the operation late Friday, an 8-year-old Palestinian girl was killed when soldiers fired at a car she was riding in with her older brother and uncle, Palestinian witnesses and relatives said. The witnesses said the soldiers were dressed in civilian clothes and fired without warning.

On Saturday, the army said it was investigating the killing. An initial inquiry found that the soldiers fired at the car's wheels when the driver did not follow orders to stop, the army said.

In Gaza City, the designated Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, was set to announce the formation of the Hamas government, said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.

Hamas officials said they are still waiting for a final word Saturday from the PFLP on whether it would join the government. PFLP officials have given conflicting signals on whether they would join.

Abbas was to travel from the West Bank to Gaza on Saturday for a meeting with Hamas leaders, his office said. In the meeting, Hamas is to present its Cabinet lineup and program.