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US Lawmakers Press Palestinian Leader to Bar Hamas from January Election

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress is urging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to exclude Hamas from next month's parliamentary elections. Sponsors of a resolution on the subject in the House of Representatives say participation of Hamas would seriously damage Mr. Abbas' credibility and efforts to make peace with Israel.

With about 60 sponsors, the resolution introduced last month says Hamas should be barred from the January 25 elections for a Palestinian Legislative Council.

While considering Hamas a terrorist organization, the Bush administration is supporting Palestinian election laws permitting Hamas to participate.

Palestinian Authority leader Abbas believes that bringing Hamas into the emerging political structure could help defuse tensions and eventually help end violence.

But Republican Congressman Eric Cantor and others see difficult times ahead if Hamas takes part, and they want President Abbas to act.

"Mahmoud Abbas has been less than convincing through his actions that he means business when he says he wants peace with Israel," said Mr. Cantor. "Because frankly he has paid a lot of lip service to that notion without taking the critical step of making sure that terrorists have no part in the Palestinian Authority."

Lawmakers say this is in contrast to actions by Israel aimed at encouraging the atmosphere for peace efforts to move forward.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Middle East Subcommittee, says Hamas is trying to hijack elections while refusing to disarm.

"Hamas seeks to con the international community into believing that it is a legitimate political party," she said. "It is not. It uses arms and violence to inflict its will, rather than disarming and denouncing terrorism, and using legitimate peaceful political means to voice its views."

The House resolution, expressing a sense of Congress, urges President Abbas to declare before the January elections his intention to dismantle terrorist organizations.

Republican Congressman Michael McCaul played a key role in drafting the resolution.

"It is my sincere hope that this resolution will pass quickly and unanimously, prior to the elections, and send a strong message to President Abbas that the U.S. Congress denounces terrorism within his own state and call upon him to do the same," said Mr. McCaul.

The resolution also states that bringing Hamas into the Palestinian governing structure could jeopardize future U.S. financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley says Congress is sending a message to Mr. Abbas not only about its future willingness to approve funds, but about his own future.

"To bring them into the government is nothing short of political suicide for Abu Mazen," she noted. "If he thinks they will embrace him, and work with him, towards a peaceful settlement in the Middle East he is kidding himself. And I think it is important to put him on notice that they are not kidding [fooling] us."

Many in Congress are concerned that Hamas may build upon public dissatisfaction with the performance of the Palestinian Authority to win a large percentage of the voter turnout in January.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says participation by Hamas, which refuses to renounce its goal of destroying Israel, would be a serious mistake, which could threaten the road map to peace overseen by the United States and others