Sayid Siyam, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said on Sunday that the group believes that entering the government will allow it to push its agenda of promoting reform and ending corruption.

In particular, he said, Hamas has its eyes on some of the Palestinian security branches, which he called "one of the areas of corruption" and "an object of our interest to reform".

Hamas swept municipal elections in several West Bank cities this past week in what was widely seen as a signal for success in the 25 January parliamentary vote.

Israel says a victory by Hamas, which has carried out dozens of bombings and remains committed to Israel's destruction, would be a blow to peace prospects.

Siyam stopped short of calling for a halt in the suicide attacks but signalled that the group is shifting its focus to politics and away from armed conflict with Israel.

Cease-fire

"Martyrdom operations is one of our tools. It is not the only means that we have"

Sayid Siyam
Hamas leader

"Martyrdom operations is one of our tools. It is not the only means that we have," he said.

Hamas leaders say privately that they are ready to end such attacks and continue a cease-fire with Israel to focus on politics. They say, however, that such decisions will come after the election.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has resisted US and Israeli calls for a crackdown on armed groups, preferring to try to co-opt them into the political system.

Abbas has said he would be willing to invite Hamas into the government after the election.

Fatah factions' unity

Also on Sunday, rival factions within the ruling Fatah party pledged to put their differences aside in the run-up to parliamentary elections but won't unify their candidate lists due to legal roadblocks, a leader of one of the factions said.

Ahmed Ghneim (C): We will not
attack each other in this election

Fatah leaders have been trying to unify the party since a group of young politicians broke away this past week and announced its own list of candidates.

The group, calling itself Future, accused Abbas of ignoring them in putting together Fatah's list.

Ahmed Ghneim, a Future leader, said that after days of negotiations, the two factions had decided to cooperate in the election.

"We will not attack each other in this election and we will not compete," he said. However, he said that Palestinian law makes it impossible for the two factions to unify their lists and that they would field separate slates of candidates.

"The understanding that we are working on now is to go ahead with the two blocs and integrate them in parliament," he said.