Haniyeh reported top choice for PM

Hamas head calls on US to remove Hamas from list of terror organizations.

Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, is the group's choice for prime minister, a Hamas official said Thursday. The formal announcement will not be made before the new Hamas-dominated Palestinian parliament is sworn in on Saturday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss personnel choices with reporters. Haniyeh, 46, is seen as a leader of the more pragmatic wing of Hamas. Born in Gaza's Shati refugee camp, Haniyeh graduated from Gaza City's Islamic University in 1987 with a degree in Arabic literature and became a close associate of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Haniyeh was expelled by Israel to south Lebanon in 1992, returned to Gaza a year later and became the dean of the Islamic University. In 1998, he took charge of Yassin's office. A pragmatist, he served as a liaison between Hamas and Palestinian Authority, established in 1994. He rose to prominence after Israel's assassinations in 2004 of Yassin and Yassin's successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. He has been a member of the political leadership of Hamas since the 1990s. Also Thursday evening, a senior Hamas official called on the United States to remove Hamas from Washington's list of terrorist organizations and to open a dialogue without preconditions. Moussa Abu Marzook, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, also confirmed reports from Gaza that Haniyeh had been chosen to be prime minister when Hamas forms a government in the near future. Marzook said the US should deal with Hamas "as it is, and later there could be a dialogue ... but there should be no preconditions." "Hamas is not the only side that wants peace ... All the Palestinians want peace because they are the only people whose rights have been encroached upon and who have been expelled from their lands," Abu Marzouk said. Abu Marzouk described as "absolutely unacceptable" Israel's pre-conditions for dialogue with Hamas, saying "Hamas ... was chosen by the Palestinian people ... this is democracy." Israel has said it will not have any contact with Hamas, which won last month's Palestinian legislative elections by a landslide, until the group renounces violence, recognizes the Jewish state and declares it will respect the existing Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Hamas has dispatched delegations to Arab and other foreign capitals to win support the group's efforts to form a new government. Hamas, which has previously carried out suicide bombings that killed or wounded hundreds of Israelis, has not claimed involvement in any suicide attacks since February 2005. Both the US and the European Union have threatened to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority if Hamas forms a government without first recognizing Israel and renouncing violence. Abu Marzouk, who has been in Egypt, Sudan and Qatar, said Hamas found "all-out support" in the three countries, which back "the choice of the Palestinian people and the budget of the Palestinian Authority as it was in the past." He did not elaborate.