Ismail Haniya, who led Hamas to its surprise win in Wednesday's parliamentary election, made the announcement as Abbas himself said he would be asking Hamas to form a new Palestinian government.

 

"I have not asked anybody so far to form the government but we are leading towards contacts and consultations with all the blocs in parliament," Abbas told reporters on Friday. 


"Of course, I am going to ask the majority party to form the
government," he added.

 

Clashes


His comments came amid reports of clashes between supporters of Hamas and followers of Abbas's Fatah party, the former ruling power which was dramatically swept out in Wednesday's poll.

 

According to reports, the rival gangs exchanged gunfire in the town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, leaving at least two people injured.

 

Haniya says he will begin talks on
partnership with Abbas

Amid worries that such clashes may escalate, Haniya's call for a partnership has been seen by some as an effort to heal rifts after Hamas's shock victory by building a government of national unity.

 

Hamas won 76 out of the 132 seats in parliament in Wednesday's election, thrashing Abbas's previously dominant Fatah faction which won only 43 seats.

 

With Middle East peace diplomacy in limbo, Israel has ruled out negotiations, frozen since 2000, with any Palestinian
administration involving Hamas.

 

The group is sworn to Israel's destruction and has been behind dozens of suicide bombings.

 

Calling on Fatah members to join the new government Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said in Damascus the party had "a clear vision for a government of unity," describing it as "one in which everyone joins".

 

However, Fatah leaders, speaking after the party's crushing defeat, have said they wanted no part in such a coalition.

 

'Wake-up call'

 

Hamas's capture of 76 seats in the 132-member parliament against 43 for Fatah has been widely portrayed as nothing short of a political earthquake in the Middle East, triggered by voter disenchantment with corruption and the failure of peace efforts.

 

"The people have punished Fatah for its mistakes and for internal divisions," said Nabil Shaath, a senior Fatah official and a former cabinet minister.

 

"Peace is never dead, because people want peace"

George Bush
US President

In Washington George Bush, the US President, also acknowledged that Hamas's electoral sweep represented a "wake-up call" for the Palestinian leadership, but said the United States would have no dealings with a Hamas-led government while the group continued to advocate violence.

 

"I have made it very clear ... that a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of a platform is a party with which we will not deal," he told a White House news conference on Thursday.

 

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has also said he will refuse to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

 

"If a government is led by or includes Hamas, the Palestinian Authority will turn into a terror organisation," he said.

 

The suprise outcome of the Palestinian vote is now certain to be a key issue in Israel's own election scheduled for March 28.

 

Commenting on the outcome of the vote, Bush urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stay in office so the United States could keep open a diplomatic channel with the Palestinian government.

 

Democracy drive

 

What next?

Final results results are to be certified within two weeks. During that time, participants may challenge results.

After final results are in, Mahmoud Abbas, the president
of the Palestinian Authority, begins consultations with
factions that are to enter the next parliament, then will tap a party to put together a government. That party will
have three weeks to put together a government, and can ask for a two-week extension.

The new Palestinian parliament is to be sworn in for a four-year term in March.

Abbas, elected last year to a four-year term, can remain in office. He has said he would step down if he cannot push
forward efforts to seek a peace deal with Israel.

The Bush administration, which has made promoting democracy in the Middle East a priority for its second term, had pressed Abbas to hold Wednesday's parliamentary election despite polls showing Hamas would do well.

 

Analysts have said Hamas' shock victory, giving it 76 seats in the 132-seat parliament, could bury any hope of reviving peace talks with Israel and stop Bush from achieving his goal of a settlement creating two states within the next few years.

 

However, Bush rejected susggestions that the Hamas win had finally killed off the stalled peace process.

 

"Peace is never dead, because people want peace," he said.

 

Observers say Hamas' win, bringing an end to four decades of rule by the Fatah Party, stunned even Hamas leaders, who mounted a well-organized campaign but have no experience in government.

 

Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected last year to a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority, has yet to decide how closely to work with the group.

 

He has said he may go around the new government to talk peace with Israel.

 

"I am committed to implementing the program on which you elected me a year ago," he said in a televised speech after the election result was announced.

 

"It is a program based on negotiations and peaceful settlement with Israel."

 

Nonetheless the cabinet and legislature must approve any major initiative by the Palestinian president, giving Hamas tremendous influence over peace moves.