The Islamic militant group Hamas has rejected an invitation to join the Palestinian cabinet.
It is a snub to President Mahmoud Abbas, who wants a national unity government to help him control the Gaza Strip after Israel’s pullout. Hamas said elections should determine the makeup of a Palestinian cabinet and called for a quick parliamentary vote, in which it is likely to mount a serious challenge to Abbas’s Fatah faction. A Hamas spokesman called the offer by the Palestinian Authority’s government a ploy to avoid a commitment to hold quick elections for parliament. Originally set for July 17, they are now expected to be held after the pullout, due to start in mid-August. Bringing in Hamas, a grassroots faction with considerable influence in Gaza, would help the Palestinian Authority preserve a fragile ceasefire by militant groups. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organisation and fears it will try to seize control of the Gaza Strip after the evacuation of all 21 Jewish settlements there. It has condemned the idea of including Hamas in the Palestinian cabinet. Meanwhile President Moshe Katsav has warned that vocal opposition to the pullout by pro-settler rabbis could incite ultranationalists to try to assassinate Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.