Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Shabir is leading candidate for new Palestinian PM

AP , GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP

A US-educated professor with ties to both Hamas and the rival Fatah Party is a leading candidate for Palestinian prime minister in an emerging unity government, officials said yesterday.

Mohammed Shabir, 60, who headed Gaza's Islamic University until last year, did not deny he was being considered, but said he has not been officially designated.

Shabir, who has a doctorate in microbiology from the University of West Virginia, is considered to be close to Hamas but not an active supporter.

Respected economist Salam Fayyad, meanwhile, is being considered for the post of finance minister, a job he held in the outgoing government. Fayyad has been credited with fighting mismanagement and cronyism, and his return to the treasury would likely go far in lifting an international aid boycott.

The leading candidate for the third key post, foreign minister, is Ziad Abu Amr, an independent lawmaker with ties to both factions, officials close to the talks said. Abu Amr has mediated between Hamas and Fatah in the past.

Hamas is not opposed to the appointment of Abu Amr and Fayyad, officials said. The sides were due to hold more talks in Gaza yesterday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the issue in the media.

Months of talks between Fatah and Hamas have failed to lead to the establishment of a unity government. In recent days, however, both sides said progress had been made, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he hoped a government would be in place by the end of this month.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in an interview published yesterday with the Palestinian paper al-Quds, said he is willing to talk to Hamas if it accepts the conditions presented by the international community.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel would look at the new government's positions and then decide whether to have ties with it.

"The issue is not who is sitting in the government but what the government says," Livni said, responding to the emerging Cabinet lineup.

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