Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians to form unity government

BREAKTHROUGH President Abbas said he had clinched a deal with Prime Minister Haniyeh defining the political program for the formation of a national unity government


Palestinian leaders agreed yesterday on the formation of a national unity government in a move that could end months of political and economic crisis and pave the way for a resumption of Western aid.

President Mahmoud Abbas will dissolve the current government within the next 48 hours and charge Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Islamist Hamas movement with forming a new Cabinet, officials said after the announcement of the deal.

"President Abbas will be issuing a presidential decree within the next 48 hours to dismiss the current government and charge a new prime minister" to form a new Cabinet, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.

"Current Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh will be charged ... with forming a national unity government," a senior official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Abbas told reporters in Gaza City that he and Haniyeh had clinched a deal on forming a national unity government after weeks of tortuous talks.

"We have finished defining the political program of a national unity government, based on the national reconciliation document," Abbas said.

The document, agreed on by nearly all the Palestinian factions on June 27, implicitly recognizes Israel's right to exist.

"In the coming days, we will start the process of forming this new government and we appeal to our people to support our efforts," Abbas said.

Haniyeh said: "This agreement was anticipated because the will was real and honest in the greater interest of the Palestinian people and to strengthen national unity and to protect [Palestinian] rights and principles."

Initial Israeli reaction to the agreement was muted, with a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying only: "This is an internal Palestinian issue."

Hamas and Abbas' Fatah party now have to agree on the makeup of the incoming Cabinet to complete the process, which could lead to the West ending a freeze on direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, which it adopted after the formation of the current Hamas-dominated government in March.

Following the announcement, Abbas called on striking civil servants -- protesting non-payment of salaries that followed the Western aid freeze -- to return to work.

"We call for a return to work and the end of the strike because all the sons of the Palestinian people should unite together in the national interest," Abbas said.

The Palestinian territories have been gripped by a political and financial crisis ever since Hamas swept to power following January parliamentary elections.

After Hamas formed a government in March, both the EU and the US froze direct assistance to the aid-dependent Palestinian government, demanding that Hamas renounce violence, recognize Israel and agree to abide by past agreements.

The EU and US, along with Israel, view Hamas as a terrorist organization. The group has killed scores of Israelis over the years in suicide attacks. It has not claimed any such attack inside the Jewish state since January last year.

The aid freeze has plunged the Palestinian territories into a severe economic crisis, with more than 160,000 civil servants not paid in full since Hamas took office.

The crisis has been compounded by Israel's two-month military offensive in the Gaza Strip, launched after militants killed two soldiers and seized a third in a cross-border raid, which has sealed off the impoverished territory.

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