US cuts off contact with Hamas

Palestinian attache in Washington will be considered a PLO representative.

hamas cabinet 298 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas cabinet 298 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The United States on Friday ordered its representatives in Israel and throughout the world to cut off all contact with any members of the Palestinian Authority government who belong to Hamas. The order applies to all Hamas ministers and their subordinates, even those who are not themselves Hamas members. However, the US will maintain ties with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and all agencies under Abbas's auspices. The State Department has decided to consider Afif Safiah, the Palestinian attach in Washington, a representative of the PLO and not the PA. The American decision follows President George W. Bush's declaration Wednesday that he would not agree to aid a Hamas-led PA. "I weep for the Palestinians' suffering," Bush said in a speech. "They've been ruled for years by a disappointing government, but we can't fund a nation that seeks to destroy its neighbor." Earlier Wednesday, Soon after Hamas formally took power, Canada announced it was suspending aid to the Palestinian Authority. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said in a statement that Canada had no choice but to suspend assistance to the PA and decline contact with the new Hamas cabinet. With Hamas at the helm, the cash-strapped PA government faces a crippling international economic boycott, and may run into immediate difficulties next week when March salaries are to be paid for some 140,000 government employees. "With Hamas taking over now, you can't have business as usual," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. The cabinet ministers took their oaths in two ceremonies, held simultaneously in the West Bank and Gaza, with the two locations connected by video conference. Abbas presided over the 10-minute ceremony in Gaza City, looking glum, then left without speaking. The first to be sworn in was Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who walked along a red carpet, then placed his hand on a copy of the Koran. Haniyeh pledged to be "loyal to the homeland and its sacred places." Haniyeh later told a news conference his government would cooperate with Abbas. He reiterated Hamas wouldn't negotiate with Israel, but appeared to be softening his message, saying that if Abbas wanted to go ahead with peace talks, "it's his prerogative and we have no problem with that." Abbas then held a separate news conference and said the new government "knows what is required" of it, including dealing with Israel. Abbas reiterated that many differences remained between him and Hamas, and that both sides should try to bridge them. In all, the new cabinet will have 24 ministers, including Haniyeh. Ten are from Gaza, 14 from the West Bank. Nine have engineering degrees and the rest are also university graduates. Nineteen are Hamas activists, five are independents. One is a woman and one a Coptic Christian. Fourteen spent time in Israeli prisons, serving terms ranging from six months to six years, most for membership in Hamas or fund-raising for terror. Haniyeh was arrested by Israel in 1989 and served three years for allegedly heading a Hamas unit that hunted down suspected informers.