(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is expected to hold talks in Cairo later this week with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal about the formation of a new PA cabinet.
Abbas said Monday he would meet with Hamas leaders within two weeks to ask them to form a new cabinet.
"When the final procedures of the parliamentary election are over, I will meet with the Hamas leadership to form the new cabinet," Abbas told reporters in Ramallah. "This will be in less than two weeks."
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Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman has been dispatched to Damascus to meet with Mashaal and other Hamas leaders. At the request of Abbas, Egypt has agreed to act as a mediator between the PA and Hamas following the results of the parliamentary vote.
Mashaal will travel to Cairo together with Suleiman, where the two are scheduled to hold talks with Abbas about the make-up of the new cabinet.
Israel is not using Egypt to pass messages to and from Hamas, Israeli diplomatic officials said Monday, following reports that Mashaal would be in Cairo Tuesday, a day before the scheduled visit of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Suleiman is scheduled to meet Livni the next day. In addition, Livni is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit during her first trip abroad as foreign minister.
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said that - as in the past - the Egyptians would not be a conduit for messages between Israel and Hamas, but could be expected to tell Livni of what transpired in the various talks on Tuesday. The officials were emphatic that Israel was not holding any contacts with Hamas, and would not do so, either directly or through a third party.
According to these officials, Israel's message to both Egypt and Jordan regarding Hamas's victory was similar to the one Jerusalem has been conveying to the rest of the world: to pressure Hamas to disarm, disavow terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist, or else the PA will face international isolation and an end to massive international aid.
The officials said that while Egypt was concerned about the ramifications of the Hamas victory on their own Islamic fundamentalists, Hamas was eager to gain Egyptian legitimacy and did not want to be seen solely as the ally of Syria and Iran.
Both Hamas and the PA are concerned about threats by the international community to cut off financial aid to the PA following the Islamic movement's landslide victory.
Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas's Change and Reform List, on Monday sent a letter to representatives of the Quartet urging them to continue supporting the Palestinians "morally and financially." He wrote that such a move would reduce tensions and lead to stability in the region.
"We ask you to send the funds directly to the [Palestinian] Finance Ministry budget," he wrote. "We assure you that the money would go to paying salaries, improving the day-to-day life of the people and rebuilding infrastructure."
Haniyeh also called on the Quartet to embark on a dialogue with Hamas, saying his movement was intent on building a new political system, pluralism, democracy and respect for human rights.
In an attempt to appease the international community, some Hamas representatives continued on Monday to issue conciliatory statements toward Israel.
Sheikh Adnan Asfour, one of the political leaders of Hamas in the West Bank, said Hamas did not want to destroy Israel or remove it from the map.
"Hamas recognizes Israel as a fact on the ground," he said. "But we don't recognize the legitimacy of its occupation."
Asfour reiterated his movement's willingness to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries and to reach a long-term cease-fire with Israel.
"That way the Israelis would be able to guarantee their security and we would also be able to live in security," he said. "Let's leave the conflict to future generations to resolve."
Another Hamas representative, Anwar Zaboun, said negotiations with Israel were not haram
(forbidden by religion).
"It's forbidden to make concessions on our rights," he said. "But negotiations and discussions are not sinful."
Hassan Safi, a Hamas member of the Bethlehem Municipal Council, said he was even prepared to shake hands with Israeli officials.
Meanwhile, senior PA officials are planning to leave the country following Hamas's victory in last week's parliamentary election, sources here revealed Monday.
Some of the officials, including a minister and a former security chief, have already transferred their bank accounts and businesses to Europe, the US and a number of Arab countries, the sources said.
According to the sources, the officials fear that the new Hamas-controlled cabinet would seize their assets and bank accounts as part of a campaign designed to eliminate financial corruption.
Also Monday, some 1,000 Fatah supporters, including dozens of armed gunmen, protested in Halhoul, north of Hebron, against allowing Hamas to run the government.
In the Gaza Strip, masked gunmen affiliated with Fatah briefly took over the PA parliament building and an EU office in Gaza City.
The EU office was seized to protest the publication of cartoons deemed insulting to Islam's Prophet Muhammad. The gunmen demanded an apology from Denmark and Norway, and said citizens of the two countries would be prevented from entering Gaza. The caricatures were published in Danish and Norwegian newspapers.
Later, Hamas called on Muslims around the world to boycott Danish products. It was the latest in a wave of violent denunciations of the caricatures across the Islamic world.
AP contributed to this report.