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Last Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006, 16:15 GMT
Hamas invited to form government
Hamas supporters in Jerusalem
Hamas supporters celebrate in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa compound
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has announced that he will ask Islamic militant group Hamas to form a new government after its election victory.

Hamas took 76 out of the 132 seats in the landmark poll, beating Mr Abbas' ruling Fatah faction.

The comments came as Hamas faced increasing international pressure to renounce violence against Israel.

Hamas also faces the possibility foreign donors may withhold millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians.

Israeli 'fear'

Mr Abbas' remarks came after senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said the two had agreed to meet shortly to start consultations on "a political partnership" and the make-up of the next administration.

Mr Haniya on Friday made his first big speech since the election victory near Gaza City's waterfront.

Ismail Haniya in Gaza

Dressed in a long brown robe, he told a packed mosque: "When we are calling for unity and partnership it is not because we are afraid or weak or incapable of facing the challenges ahead, but because we believe in unity."

The BBC's Alan Johnston at the mosque in Gaza says an alliance may be necessary for, if Hamas were to try to govern alone, interaction with the outside world might be extremely difficult.

As it is, he says, some Palestinians are concerned that crucial international financial support may be cut back.

On Friday, the European Commission, which offered 280 million euros ($342m) to the Palestinian people last year, admitted it was in a dilemma about funding, although it wants to continue aid.

And former US President Jimmy Carter, who met Mr Abbas on Friday, said the US would have to cut off funds to the authority, although he said other channels should be found to prevent "chaos".

Israelis react to Hamas' victory in Palestinian elections

Our correspondent in Gaza says Mr Haniya acknowledged those worries in his speech but said that Palestinians had no need to be afraid. God, he said, would provide.

Correspondents say Mr Haniya's meeting with Mr Abbas will have to be in Gaza, as Israel is unlikely to give permission for a Hamas delegation to travel across Israel to the West Bank.

The pair will meet amid continuing tension between Hamas and Mr Abbas' Fatah faction.

On Friday, three people were reported wounded in a gun battle between rival supporters near the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

Mr Abbas also faces continued calls from Fatah activists for his resignation.

Hundreds protested outside his house in Gaza City on Friday while thousands more backed the resignation call in the Nusayrat refugee camp.

International reaction

The Israeli army remains on high alert. The military said it had arrested 15 suspected Palestinian militants - including eight from Hamas - in overnight raids across the West Bank.

Israeli interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ruled out any talks with Hamas, which it calls "an armed terror organisation that calls for Israel's destruction".

A victory for Hamas is positive and unsettling at the same time
Jarvin McCrafken, St Louis, US

A government spokesman then said daily contacts with the Palestinian Authority would be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but he repeated Israel's determination not to engage in peace talks with Hamas until it renounced violence.

The US, UN, EU and Russia issued a statement on Thursday calling on Hamas to renounce violence and accept Israel's right to exist.

The four powers working for peace in the Middle East will hold talks in London on Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will on Monday become the first foreign leader to visit the Palestinian territories since the elections but will not meet Hamas officials, her spokesman said.

Hamas has indicated its readiness to continue an unofficial truce with Israel and Mr Abbas says he remains committed to a peaceful settlement.

However, his party has said it will not join Hamas in government and its Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has offered to resign.

Hamas supporter
Hamas' strong showing has caused consternation in Israel and the US
1) Fatah: 55 seats
2) Independent Fatah: 7 seats
3) Independent Islamists: 4
4) Independent Christians: 3
5) Independents: 15 seats
6) Samaritans: 1 seat
7) Others: 1 seat
8): Vacant: 2 seats
1) Hamas - 76 seats
2) Fatah - 43 seats
3) PFLP - 3 seats
4) Badeel - 2 seats
5) Independent Palestine - 2
6) Third Way - 2 seats
7) Independent/other - 4

Israel and the Palestinians



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