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Last Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006, 17:13 GMT
Abbas ponders Hamas cabinet list
Mahmoud al-Zahhar
Mahmoud Zahhar is unlikely to seek to mend ties with the West
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is studying a cabinet list presented to him by the Hamas nominee for prime minister, Ismail Haniya.

The proposed team includes technocrats, but is dominated by Hamas members after the militant movement failed to win any coalition partners.

The foreign ministry portfolio has gone to prominent hardliner Mahmoud Zahhar.

The new finance minister, Omar Abdul Razeq, was released from an Israeli jail only weeks ago.

Another Hamas leader, Said Siyam, was named interior minister, putting him in charge of several security agencies.

Hamas won the right to form a new administration after its victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January.

BBC correspondent in Gaza Alan Johnston says Mr Zahhar is unlikely to bend to western pressure on Hamas to moderate its position and recognise Israel.

Aid package

Our correspondent says the new government is likely to have an extremely fraught relationship with the European Union, the US and Israelis, all of whom regard Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

An Israeli raid in the Palestinian village of Beita, near Nablus
Hamas says it has the right to resist the Israeli occupation
He adds that the appointment of a hardliner like Mr Zahhar is a signal Hamas sees links with the Arab and Islamic worlds as more important than improving ties with the West.

EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss the future provision of aid to needy Palestinians without being seen to endorse a blacklisted group.

"We leave the door open for positive change but at the same time we also have to make clear we cannot go soft on our principles," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

The EU released $64m to the UN relief agency for Palestinians for urgent aid - half an assistance package announced last month.

The EU is the biggest aid donor to the Palestinian territories, and it has made clear that future help is conditional on the new Palestinian cabinet recognising Israel and internationally-agreed peace accords.

A Hamas spokesman said the group would not be "blackmailed" over its political programme.

"We know that the economic situation is very difficult, but we will not go begging to the US and Europe," Salah Bardawil said.

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