A new Palestinian parliament convened on Saturday under the control of the Islamic militant group Hamas which won Palestinian legislative elections on January 25. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas opened the parliamentary session with a call to pursue the peace process.
A crowd of Palestinians greeted the new legislators with calls to free their family members from Israeli jails as the new Palestinian Legislative Council or parliament was sworn in at President Mahmoud Abbas's headquarters in Ramallah.
Saturday's opening session was held in two locations; Ramallah and Gaza City because of Israeli travel restrictions placed on legislators, a majority of whom now belong to Hamas. The group won 74 seats in the 132-seat legislature on January 25 in a stunning political upset, seen as a vote of repudiation against President Abbas's Fatah Party, which is regarded by many Palestinians as corrupt and ineffective at governing the Palestinian Authority.
In his speech to the new legislators, Mr. Abbas said the results of the election had led to a new political reality and he called on Hamas to adhere to existing agreements with Israel, and commit itself to achieving a Palestinian state through negotiations.
Mr. Abbas called on Israel not to punish Palestinians because they voted for Hamas. He also said any eventual final settlement should be based on direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and not on unilateral actions.
Hamas leaders on Saturday rejected Mr. Abbas's plea, saying while they would consider what they describe as a long-term truce with Israel, they will not recognize the Jewish state. University professor Aziz al-Duwaik, the new speaker of the Hamas-dominated parliament spoke to reporters just outside the hall where President Abbas spoke on Saturday.
"We are people living under occupation," he said. "And we have the full right to resist the occupation. Occupation is the worst type of slavery, and our people are in urgent need for emancipation."
Israel the United States and the European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. International donors say they will suspend aid to any Palestinian government dominated by Hamas, unless the group agrees to disarm and recognize Israel. Israel's cabinet is expected to approve a package of sanctions on Sunday, including suspending the transfer of about $50 million a month in customs and tax fees to the Palestinian Authority.
Speaker al-Duwaik says for now Hamas will work towards trying to unify Palestinians.
"The challenge is to unite our people and to get a unity government which will serve the interests of our people and put this interest at the top of our agenda," he said.
Mr. Abbas, who was elected separately last year, does have the authority to fire any Hamas prime minister who rejects his policies. Hamas leaders say they want members of Mr. Abbas's Fatah Party to join the new government but so far Fatah leaders have declined the offer. Hamas now has five weeks to form a new cabinet. Hamas leaders say they expect to have a new government in place in the next several weeks.