GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) _ The radical Islamic group Hamas said Saturday it is weighing an invitation to join the government of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Hamas, which bitterly opposes the peace accords between the Palestinians and Israel, has never before sought an official position in the Palestinian Authority.

However, Hamas representatives were asked to meet Tuesday with Arafat to discuss participation in the next government, said Hamas spokesman Mahmoud Zahar.

``This offer is being studied in Hamas right now, and we will respond in the right time,'' he said.

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, the secretary-general of Arafat's office, confirmed the government's overture to Hamas.

``We are inviting all factions _ those who participate in the government and those who do not, including Hamas _ to participate in consultations on the new government,'' he said Saturday.

Arafat is reshuffling his government in the coming week to avoid a no-confidence vote by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The potential rapprochement could signal an attempt by Arafat to neutralize the growing Hamas challenge to his authority. But the effort could also complicate Arafat's dealings with Israel and the United States.

The two countries have been pressuring the Palestinian leader to crack down on militant groups like Hamas, which has killed scores of Israelis in recent suicide bombing attacks.

Relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been badly strained in recent months.

Hamas on Saturday staged a protest in Gaza to demand the release of its spokesman, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who has been jailed since April after making statements critical of Arafat's government.

Rantisi was charged with endangering national security, but the Palestinian Supreme Court last week ordered his release for lack of evidence. Palestinian security forces usually ignore court orders and keep detainees in custody until Arafat says otherwise.

Rantisi had accused the Palestinian Authority and high-ranking Palestinian officials of collaborating with Israel in the March 29 death of Hamas bombmaker Mohiyadine Sharif.