Ismail Haniya said the Palestinian people had the right to continue their struggle for independence but stressed his desire to enter negotiations with the international community to end the conflict with Israel.

He told legislators on Monday: "Our government will spare no effort to reach a just peace in the region, putting an end to the occupation and restoring our rights.

"We have never been supporters of war, terrorism or bloodletting. Instead it is the Israeli occupation that waged all forms of terrorism against our people in chasing them out of their homeland, besieging it and starving it."

'Isolated cantons'

Haniya was speaking via a video-link from Hamas' Gaza City base in a speech to the parliament in Ram Allah due to travel restrictions imposed by the Israelis, who refuse to deal with a Hamas-led administration.

He was critical of acting Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's plan to unilaterally fix the Jewish state's final borders, saying it would "turn our country into isolated cantons", while also demanding an end to the Israeli occupation and dismantling of its West Bank barrier.

"The Palestinian people should not be punished for exercising their right to choose their leaders in free and democratic elections"

Ismail Haniya,
Incoming prime minister

Haniya urged the US, which considers Hamas a terrorist organisation, to modify its stance towards the Palestinians, but he rejected threats from Washington and Brussels to slash funding unless his incoming government softens its hardline platform.

While holding off any suggestion of negotiating with Israel, the Hamas leader welcomed the prospect of continued international involvement in the peace process, in particular from the so-called Middle East quartet.

 

Despite the Palestinian Authority's reliance on foreign aid, Haniya said that there would be no caving in to outside pressure.

Vote of approval

"The Palestinian people should not be punished for exercising their right to choose their leaders in free and democratic elections," he said.

 

However, he also said his government would seek talks with all countries to ensure the continuation of aid, adding that all funds received would be spent "in complete transparency".

Washington has asked the Palestinian Authority to return a multimillion-dollar loan in the aftermath of Hamas's landslide election victory on 25 January.

Haniya formally submitted his list of 24 ministers for the new government, which will now be subject to a vote.

This should be a formality for Hamas given the size of the majority won at the polls in January.

The final seal of approval should then be given by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, on Wednesday.