Palestinian sources say that some of the key positions in their cabinet of experts will probably be filled by figures who are considered moderate and acceptable to the United States. They say that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who has already agreed to the candidacy of Dr. Mohammed Shabir as prime minister, hopes to make Ziad Abu Amar foreign minister. Abu Amar, an academic who frequently speaks at U.S. universities, was supported by Hamas in the last parliamentary election.

The sources say that Salam Fayad, who served as finance minister in previous PA governments and is considered close to the United States, is likely to be tapped for that position again in the new cabinet.

According to the sources, Hamas wants individuals who are affiliated closely to the movement to man cabinet posts connected to domestic affairs, including the interior, education, health and Waqf ministries. Hamas is likely to have 11 or 12 ministers, while Fatah will have to settle for between five and seven. Representatives of both parties deny that any discussion or agreement on ministry staffing has taken place.

Shabir, a former president of the Islamic University in Gaza City, is not identified with any of the Palestinian organizations. Born in Gaza in 1946, he left to study pharmacy in Alexandria, Egypt and later received a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of West Virginia. After returning to Gaza he worked for the Islamic University. He was appointed head of the medical school and then dean before becoming university president in 1993. His father was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Talks resume in Gaza

Former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia arrived in Gaza yesterday to represent Abbas in the talks between the Palestinian factions. Qureia met twice with Hamas leaders, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, together with senior Hamas officials and foreign minister candidate Abu Amar.

Palestinian sources emphasized that the entire enterprise of putting together a cabinet of technocrats still depends on the willingness of the United States to lift the economic sanctions placed on the PA, and on Israel's readiness to release the imprisoned Hamas cabinet ministers and MPs as part of a comprehensive deal for the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

The sources say that Hamas is conditioning its agreement on these measures, and they add that the Americans have agreed in principle to Shubair's appointment as premier.

The Arab states decided to lift the economic boycott of the PA imposed when Hamas took control of the government in January.

FMs meet in Cairo

The announcement came during a meeting yesterday in Cairo of Arab League foreign ministers.

This move represented a response to the U.S. veto on Saturday in the UN Security Council of a resolution sponsored by Qatar denouncing Israel for the IDF operation in Beit Hanun last week.

"We decided not to cooperate with the blockade. There will no longer be an international siege," Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said.

The Fatah Revolutionary Council decided last night to appoint Abbas supreme commander of the organization, a post previously held by Yasser Arafat. The measure was apparently aimed at limiting the authority of Fatah secretary general Farouk Kaddoumi, who sought to lead this leading Fatah forum and thereby reduce Abbas' authority. It was also decided that a special committee is to establish a united Fatah emergency leadership for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.