The Palestinian movement Hamas was given a stark reminder of the challenges awaiting it in power as gunmen attacked government ministries and its chief donor stood by threats to cut funding.
A day after presenting a cabinet list to Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas, notable by its absence of other parties, the radical Islamists were forced to acknowledge that there were tough times ahead once its programme is given the final approval of legislators.
Israel meanwhile tried to turn the tables on Abbas, saying he could vindicate his moderate reputation by rejecting Hamas’s government unless it respected the Jewish state’s right to exist and renounced violence.
Hamas’s landslide election victory on January 25 was largely due to the failure of Abbas’s previously dominant
Fatah faction to get to grips with a spiralling security chaos.
However any thought that Hamas would be able to swiftly reverse the situation was dispelled on the streets of Gaza City Monday where militants from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, nominally loyal to Fatah, laid siege to two government ministries.
The militants forced their way into the foreign and finance ministries, located in the same complex, where they proceeded to demand jobs.
Four people — two civilians, a policeman and a gunman — were wounded in the subsequent brief exchange of fire between militants and police officers.
In a separate incident, two policemen and a gunman were wounded in a shootout when Al-Aqsa militants ambushed a police convoy near Erez, the main crossing point between the
Gaza Strip and Israel.
The militants had blockaded the main road near Erez to demand the authorities give them jobs in the Palestinian security services.
Hamas prime minister designate Ismail Haniya has handed the job of interior minister to one of the movement’s most senior officials, Said Siam, who will have the delicate task of dealing with the security services which have traditionally been packed with Fatah loyalists.
Apart from the security services, Hamas and its fighters continue to hold onto their weapons assembled during a five-year uprising against Israel even though the movement has largely held off attacks for the past year.
The government programme submitted to Abbas proclaimed "resistance in all its forms is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people to end the occupation and recover their rights".
Its unwillingness to compromise its platform ensured that moderate parties declined to join Hamas in power while both the United States and
European Union say they will withhold funding unless Hamas recognises Israel and commits itself to non-violence.
EU foreign ministers met in Brussels Monday to ponder how to continue providing aid to needy Palestinians without being seen to endorse a government led by a group which the 25-member bloc blacklists as a terrorist organisation.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said she hoped Hamas would soften its stance but warned that Europe — the Palestinians’ largest donor with an annual contribution of 500 million euros (609 million dollars) — would not.
"We leave the door open for positive change but at the same time we also have to make clear we cannot go soft on our principles," she said.
Following UN warnings of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, Israel briefly reopened the Karni crossing, which has been shut for most of the year, to allow the passage of desperately needed necessities, but only for less than an hour.
"We know that the economic situation is very difficult," Hamas spokesman Salah Bardawil told AFP.
"But we will not go begging to the United States and Europe because we will not be blackmailed over our political positions," he said, adding that the new government would look for replacement funding from the Islamic world.
Israel has already vowed not to have dealings with a "terrorist" government, and to continue to withhold customs and value-added tax receipts collected on behalf of the Palestinians, until Hamas changes its platform.
Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz put the burden of responsibility on Abbas, who needs to approve the line-up before it is submitted to MPs.
"Abu Mazen’s moment of truth has arrived and the world is waiting to see whether he will approve a Hamas government and its basic policy guidelines, which adhere stubbornly to the right to armed resistance," he said.