Israel braces for Hamas poll win

Israel is preparing for the possibility that the Palestinian resistance group Hamas will gain control of the Palestinian Authority after January's parliamentary elections.

    Hamas has done well in recent municipal elections

    Hamas, which is enjoying increasing support from voters and is

    to stand in its first ever legislative poll on 25 January, openly

    calls for the destruction of Israel and advocates armed resistance

    to the Jewish state's occupation.

    Israeli leaders are to begin meeting on Sunday to agree on Tel Aviv's

    stance should Hamas gain a majority in the Palestinian Authority, Israeli 

    radio said, a development which could throw the troubled 

    Middle East peace plan even further off track.

    Shimon Peres, former prime minister, quoted by the radio, said: "

    Such a takeover would endanger the international assistance

    given to the Palestinians because no country would give financial or

    other help to an authority ruled by an armed terror organisation."

    Consultations are to be headed by Dov Weisglass, chief adviser to Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister,

    and are to include defence, foreign

    ministry and Shin Beth intelligence officials, the radio said.

    Resistance to continue

    In Damascus, Khalid Mishaal, political leader of Hamas, reaffirmed

    the group's intent to participate in Palestinian elections without

    abandoning what he called resistance against Israel.

    Mishaal: No one can deprive us of
    our arms and right to resistance

    "We will participate in the elections, and we will enter the

    political scene without compromising our rights," Mishaal said on


    "We won in municipal elections and we will carry the legislative

    elections," he told an enthusiastic crowd at the Palestinian Yarmuk

    refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus to mark the resistance group's 18th


    Hamas scored a resounding victory in local elections in the main

    West Bank cities this month, in what was one of the clearest

    indicators of the movement's strength ahead of January's

    parliamentary contest.

    Mishaal added: "No one in the world can deprive us of our arms and our right to

    resistance. This is a strategic choice to which we will adhere until

    Palestine is completely free and all the refugees are returned."

    US disapproval

    The US House of Representatives had backed a resolution in

    mid-December saying Hamas should not be allowed to participate in

    Palestinian elections until it recognised "Israel's right to exist

    as a Jewish state".

    The resolution also urged Hamas - which is

    designated a terrorist group by the US State Department - to

    "permanently disarm and dismantle their terrorist infrastructure".



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