Nabil Abu Rudaina, spokesman for the president, said on Saturday that Mahmoud Abbas would not reject the cabinet because he believed he should give Hamas a chance to set up its government.

"In my view, the president is not going to reject the Hamas government because he is not willing to block a government that will win a confidence vote in parliament," said Abu Rudaina.

"He will none the less ask the new government to respect the programmes of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Palestinian National Authority as any other path will lead to isolation and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people because Hamas' programme fails to meet the demands of the international community."

"In my view, the president is not going to reject the Hamas government because he is not willing to block a government that will win a confidence vote in parliament"

Nabil Abu Rudaina,
spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas

His comments were echoed by Azzam al-Ahmad, the leader of  Fatah's parliamentary bloc.

"In my view, the president is going to accept the government, although Fatah has decided neither to join it nor to give it its support in parliament, because its policies are different from ours," al-Ahmad said.

Hamas, the surprise winner of parliamentary elections in January, has refused to accept interim peace deals with Israel or to commit to seeking a negotiated settlement as demanded by Abbas.

Abbas could try to delay installation of a government until after Israel's 28 March parliamentary election.

A standoff over Hamas' government programme could trigger a constitutional crisis, Palestinian officials have said.

Hamas list completed

Hamas completed forming a Palestinian cabinet that will put loyal members of the Islamist group in charge of key ministries, including interior, foreign affairs and finance, Hamas officials said on Saturday.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said: "The cabinet is ready to be presented to President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting to be agreed with him."

Hamas had planned to hand its cabinet lineup to Abbas on Saturday. But the meeting with the president, whose Fatah group has refused to join the Hamas-led government, was postponed to Sunday.

The Islamist resistance movement's inability to win any coalition partners and its decision to appoint its own members to the top three ministries could bolster US and Israeli efforts to isolate the new government diplomatically and economically.

Hamas spokesman Abu Zuhri said it did not plan to unveil its ministerial list publicly before presenting it to Abbas.

The delay in the meeting with Abbas could give Hamas extra time to try to find a coalition partner.

Only the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whose leader was seized this week by Israeli forces from a West Bank prison, was still considering joining the government.

Abbas' Fatah and the other factions were under heavy US pressure not to join.

Finance minister

According to sources close to the deliberations, Hamas will name Omar Abdel-Razeq, a prominent West Bank economics professor and Hamas election official, to the post of finance minister.

Mahmoud al-Zahar is to be
foreign minister, sources say

Abdel-Razeq, a professor at an-Najah University, led Hamas' election team for the West Bank. He was seized by Israeli forces early in January and freed three days ago, Hamas sources said.

The US and Israel have vowed not to provide any money to a Hamas-led finance ministry, which pays the salaries of about 140,000 public employees and security force members.

As many as one in four Palestinians depend on wages from the Palestinian Authority.

Donor countries could set up a trust fund that would pay salaries directly to the Authority's employees, bypassing a Hamas-led finance ministry, Western diplomats said on Friday.

Hamas sources said the group might keep Mazen Sonnoqrot, an independent, in his post as economy minister.

The foreign minister will be Mahmoud al-Zahar, a leader in Gaza whom Israel has tried to assassinate, Hamas sources said.

And another Hamas leader, Saeed Seyam, would become interior minister, with control over three Palestinian security agencies.