Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Palestinian government sworn in

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) — A new Palestinian government, again headed by Western-backed Salam Fayyad, was sworn in on Tuesday.

The new cabinet took the oath of office at the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Ten of the 23 ministers are Fatah members and the remainder belong to other groups, but none to Hamas, which said it would not recognise the new government. The ceremony came a day after the secular Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and the rival Hamas adjourned a fifth round of talks in Egypt without agreeing on a unity deal.

The US-educated Fayyad announced on March 7 that he had submitted his resignation to pave the way for a "national consensus" between Fatah and Hamas.

The rival factions have been at loggerheads since Hamas forces ousted Abbas loyalists from the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

Since then, the Iranian-backed Hamas has run the Gaza Strip and the secular Abbas has been in charge of the West Bank.

Hamas on Tuesday accused Abbas of "deliberately sabotaging the Palestinian dialogue."

"This government is illegal and we will not recognise it," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in a statement.

Agreement between the two Palestinian factions is vital for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, devastated by Israel's 22-day offensive in December and January that killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

International donor countries pledged 4.5 billion dollars to the Palestinian Authority at a conference in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in March, much of it for the reconstruction of Gaza.

But many donor countries refuse to channel their funds via Hamas, insisting the PA must supervise the spending.

Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 and formed a government two months later, but the cabinet was boycotted by Israel and the West over the group's refusal to renounce violence and recognise Israel and past peace deals.

Tensions between Hamas and Fatah grew for months afterwards, often erupting into violent clashes, but the two sides managed to form a unity government in March 2007 after Saudi mediation.

That cabinet was short-lived however.

In June 2007, the tensions erupted into Gaza street clashes that saw unprecedented violence between the two factions and ended with Hamas in control of the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people.

Abbas then formed a new cabinet with Fayyad at the helm in July 2007.

Tuesday's swearing in ceremony was delayed by one hour amid internal disagreements as two Fatah deputies refused to join the cabinet. Fatah's parliamentary faction complained it had not been consulted over the formation of the government.

Fayyad is a former World Bank and International Monetary Fund employee who won accolades in the West for his anti-corruption measures during his stint as Palestinian finance minister between 2002 and 2005.

A fluent English speaker, Fayyad is a firm believer in the principles of transparency and accountability whom Israel's liberal Haaretz newspaper once dubbed "everyone's favourite Palestinian."

Riyad al-Malki will retain the foreign affairs portfolio in the new cabinet, and four ministries, including tourism and education, will be headed by women.

Copyright © 2009 AFP. All rights reserved
Aggie Comment: The term of Abbas as PM expired in Jan 2009. He says PA's Basic Law allows him to stay in power for another year. He has now formed a new govt--based on what? Has anyone read reports on any new parlimentary elections being held? Is this an entity that can be legally recognized to negotiate a peace agreement with Israel?

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