Sun, Jul 15, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Abbas consolidates his control over West Bank

AFTER THE EMERGENCY In a move to skirt the paralysis that has brought the Palestinian legislature to a standstill, the prime minister resigned and was then reappointed


Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad resigned as head of an emergency government and was immediately appointed yesterday to lead an interim Cabinet, after a state of emergency imposed after Hamas' Gaza takeover expired.

Fayyad's resignation and reappointment were part of a move by President Mahmoud Abbas to consolidate his control over the West Bank.

Hamas alleged that Abbas' decisions in the past month, including forming the emergency Cabinet, were not legal.

"This government, from the outset, is unconstitutional," Ahmed Bahar of Hamas, the acting parliament speaker, said yesterday.

In a countermove, Bahar convened a special session of parliament today to challenge Abbas' decisions.

By law, any new government requires parliament approval. However, the legislature has been paralyzed as a result of the power struggle between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement.

Hamas formally holds a majority, with 74 of 132 parliament seats.

However, in the past year, more than three dozen Hamas lawmakers were arrested by Israel, giving Fatah a slim majority among legislators able to attend. As a result, Hamas has avoided convening parliament, for fear of being outvoted by Fatah.

Salah Bardawil, the head of Hamas' parliament bloc, said yesterday that the movement had obtained a written authorization from imprisoned Hamas lawmakers that Bahar could vote on their behalf.

Bardawil said this would restore Hamas' majority and enable it to vote against Abbas' recent decisions.

It was not immediately clear whether Abbas and Fatah would challenge Hamas' latest move.

Independent lawmaker Azmi Shuaibi said Hamas would violate the law if he allowed lawmakers to vote in absentia.

"The law is very clear," he said. "Voting must be direct and secret."

Fayyad's interim government is to remain in place until Fayyad forms a new administration.

In a letter to Fayyad, Abbas said he accepted his resignation and asked him to form a new government. In the meantime, Fayyad will head a caretaker government, Abbas wrote.

The caretaker government will largely consist of the same ministers as the emergency administration. On Friday, just hours before the state of emergency expired, Abbas swore in three more ministers, bringing the total in the Cabinet from 13 to 16.

Abbas fired the Hamas-led government last month, following Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza.

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