Abbas agrees to hand security forces over to Hamas

AGENCIES , GAZA CITY AND JERUSALEM

Mon, Feb 06, 2006 - Page 1

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has agreed that the militant Hamas group will take control of Palestinian security forces after it assumes power, and hasn't demanded that it recognize Israel or Palestinian-Israeli accords if it wants to form the next government, a Hamas leader said late on Saturday.

Another group leader predicted a Hamas-led government would be in place by the end of the month.

Abbas met with Hamas leaders on Saturday night for the first time since the group routed his long-ruling Fatah Party in Jan. 25 parliamentary elections, unnerving Israel and the West.

Abbas, who was elected separately last year and wants new peace talks with Israel, must now work out a power-sharing arrangement with the Islamic group, which is committed to Israel's destruction and has killed hundreds of Israelis.

Israel's Channel 1 TV reported that Abbas sought to maintain control of Palestinian police in his meeting with Hamas, but Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said no such demands were made.

Abbas, who didn't comment after the meeting, has not said he wanted to retain authority over the 58,000-member Palestinian police. But other senior Fatah officials have insisted that Fatah-dominated security forces wouldn't submit to Hamas control.

Meanwhile, Israel decided yesterday to release to the Palestinians a payment of about US$45 million that it froze after Hamas' election victory.

But Israel said future transfers, vital to the Palestinian economy, were unlikely.

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