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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 20:14 GMT
Hamas 'names its prime minister'
Ismail Haniya
Ismail Haniya is one of Hamas' leaders in Gaza
The Palestinian militant group Hamas has chosen Ismail Haniya, one of its leaders in Gaza, to be the next prime minister, reports say.

Mr Haniya led the Islamist group's national list of candidates in January's parliamentary elections, in which Hamas was the surprise winner.

Hamas has yet to make a formal announcement of the nomination.

Israel says it will not deal with a Hamas government unless it renounces violence and recognises Israel.

We have decided to nominate brother Ismail Haniya as prime minister
Hamas official

Mr Haniya, considered a pragmatist, is thought to be more open to dialogue with Israel than many other Hamas leaders.

"We have decided to nominate brother Ismail Haniya as prime minister," one senior official told Reuters after Hamas MPs met in Ramallah.

The formal announcement has been delayed until the inauguration of the Palestinian Legislative Council on Saturday, the official added.

However, Mr Haniya told Reuters that no decision had been made.

"Such an important position requires consultations between leaders in the [Palestinian] territories, in prisons and in exile," he said.

"Nothing official has been reached so far, and when a decision is made, it will be published."

Mr Haniya rose to prominence in Hamas as a close associate of the group's spiritual leader, the late Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, whose office he ran.

He was reportedly elected to Hamas' "collective leadership" after Sheikh Yassin and his successor in Gaza, Abdel-Aziz Rantissi, were assassinated by Israel in 2004.

Hamas made its first nominations for senior parliamentary posts on Wednesday.

University professors Aziz al-Duwaik, from the West Bank, and Ahmed Bahar, from Gaza, were nominated for speaker and deputy speaker.

Mahmoud Zahhar, believed to be Hamas' leader in Gaza, was named head of the group's majority faction in parliament.

Hamas leaders plan to appoint a cabinet within a fortnight of the parliament's first session.

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