Hamas boycotts parliament
Abbas moves closer to keeping Cabinet intact
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Hamas boycotted the opening of the Palestinian parliament's new term yesterday, effectively allowing President Mahmoud Abbas to keep his moderate emergency Cabinet in power.
The boycott deprived the parliament of the required quorum, preventing the Hamas-led legislature from voting against the Cabinet that Abbas assembled after Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last month.
A senior US envoy, meanwhile, assured Abbas of Washington's full support for his steps against the Islamic militants in response to the Gaza fighting.
"We support the president in his decisions which are legitimate (under) Palestinian law and authority to deal with this unfortunate development," said State Department official David Welch.
Welch met Abbas to prepare for next week's visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, another attempt to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
In an interview broadcast yesterday on Hamas TV in Gaza, Khaled Mashaal, the Syria-based leader of the Islamic group, rejected an Abbas proposal to post an international peace force in Gaza. "It's (bad) enough to have Zionist forces, for us to have international forces as well?" he said.
Hamas seized control of Gaza in mid-June, following a five-day battle against security forces loyal to Abbas' Fatah movement. In response, Abbas fired the Hamas-led coalition government and installed a West Bank-based emergency Cabinet, led by moderate Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a respected economist.
Hamas denounced Abbas' measures as illegal, and said it would not recognize the new government.
Under Palestinian law, an emergency government can only rule for one month, and any extension requires parliament's approval.
Hamas has 74 members in the 132-seat parliament. However, 41 Hamas legislators have been rounded up by Israel in the past year, leaving Fatah with an effective majority with its 42 legislators.
Last week, Abbas issued a presidential decree, calling for a parliament session yesterday to start a new term, during which a new speaker would be elected. Currently, the speaker and his deputy are from Hamas, but the Islamists would have lost yesterday's voting.
As a result, Hamas refused to attend the session.
The deputy speaker of parliament, Ahmed Bahar of Hamas, said Abbas had no right to convene parliament in the first place. "We consider this decree to call the session for today a clear infringement on the constitution," Bahar said, adding that only the speaker can convene a session.