Hamas invited to join Arafat's government
Web posted at: 8:51 p.m. EDT (0051 GMT)
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (CNN) -- The radical Islamic group Hamas is considering an invitation to join the government of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Hamas officials said Saturday they were asked to meet next Tuesday with Arafat to discuss the option.
"This offer is being studied in Hamas right now, and we will respond in the right time," said Hamas spokesman Mahmoud al- Zahar.
Hamas opposes the peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians. Its armed wing has killed many Israelis in suicide attacks aimed at undermining the peace process.
The group has never sought a formal position in the Palestinian Authority, and members boycotted Palestinian elections in 1996.
The invitation is part of an attempt by Arafat to reshuffle his government in hopes of avoiding an unprecedented no-confidence motion by the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The council set a June 15 deadline for Arafat to reform his government in the face of allegations of corruption, or face a no-confidence motion.
"We are inviting all factions -- those who participate in the government and those who do not, including Hamas, to participate in consultations on the new government," said Tayeb Abdel Rahim, the secretary-general of Arafat's office.
Hamas' political clout growing
Hamas has been growing as a political alternative to the Palestinian Authority due to public anger over the impasse in peace negotiations with Israel. One wing of Hamas is popular among many Palestinians for its charity work running day-care centers and health clinics.
Relations between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been badly strained between the two in recent months.
On Saturday, Hamas held a protest rally in Gaza to demand the release of its spokesman, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. He was jailed in April for criticizing Arafat's government and was charged with endangering national security.
The Palestinian Supreme Court ordered his release last week for lack of evidence, but Palestinian security forces usually ignore court orders and keep detainees in custody until Arafat tells them otherwise.
Zahar said there has been no change in political conditions that would make Hamas want to join the Palestinian government.
"It is clear there has been no change. On the contrary, the Oslo experiment has proven its failure," he said, referring to the peace accords negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians in Oslo, Norway.
What's the benefit for Hamas?
A political analyst said Hamas would benefit little from joining the government.
"They can't benefit from joining the Palestinian Authority when they can receive more public support by being against the Palestinian Authority at a time when the public mood is very critical of the Palestinian Authority," Ghassan Khatib said.
Khatib said Arafat may be making the offer to emphasize the public pressure he faces. But the offer could complicate Arafat's relations with the United States and Israel, both of which have been pressuring Arafat to crack down on militant groups like Hamas.
Negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel over the peace accords have been stalled over disputes involving West Bank land transfers from Israel to the Palestinians, Jewish settlement expansions and suicide-bombing attacks.
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