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Hamas leader appointed; Egypt against cutting funds

Ismail Haniyeh of the militant group Hamas was appointed Tuesday as the next Palestinian prime minister, but he refused to respond to a demand from the president to adhere to interim peace deals reached with Israel.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a four-day visit to the Middle East, where she hoped to persuade Arab leaders to cut off financial aid to Hamas. But she ran into trouble on her very first stop, in Egypt.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, told her that Egypt believed funds to the Palestinian government should continue for an indefinite period, to give Hamas "time to develop their own ideas." Egypt gives little if any money to the Palestinians. Still, the United States considers Egypt's view to be influential, one reason Rice stopped here first.

After accepting the letter designating him as prime minister, Haniyeh met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for more than two hours, their second such session in two days.

Abbas is the head of Fatah, the Islamic movement Hamas trounced in last month's Palestinian parliamentary election. Abbas was elected president last year, and now he will have to deal with a Hamas Parliament and Cabinet.

Abbas has said the Hamas-led government must accept the agreements made by previous governments - including interim peace accords with Israel and the internationally backed "road map" plan for a Palestinian state.

Haniyeh was noncommittal. "We will study it, and God willing, we will answer soon to Abu Mazen (Abbas), God willing," he said.

Hamas ideology does not recognize a Jewish state in the Middle East, and the militant group has sent dozens of suicide bombers into Israel. Since the election, Hamas has rebuffed demands from Israel, the United States, the United Nations and Europe to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

Haniyeh has five weeks to form a Cabinet, and he began holding talks with several small factions after the Hamas-dominated Parliament took office Saturday.

Israel has urged the international community to join it in isolating Hamas. The United States and the European Union, which consider Hamas a terrorist group, have threatened to halt hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid once the new Palestinian Cabinet takes office.

But Egypt's stance is likely to be echoed by the other foreign leaders Rice is to meet this week. Egypt is the only one of these nations that has diplomatic relations with Israel; the other states generally hold more hostile views toward Israel.

Information from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.