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Abbas to head Palestinian interim government

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas agreed Monday to form an interim unity government with Mahmoud Abbas as prime minister. The move prompted Israel to warn that any reconciliation with Hamas jeopardised progress on peace.


AFP - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas is to head an interim consensus government under a deal signed with Hamas on Monday, after a long-running disagreement that has stalled Palestinian reconciliation.

The accord signed in Qatar was welcomed by officials from both rival Palestinian movements Hamas and Fatah, but Israel warned Abbas to choose between reconciliation with Hamas and making peace with the Jewish state.

The full line-up of the interim national consensus government, which will supervise the run-up to long-delayed presidential and legislative elections, is to be announced in Cairo next week at a meeting of all the Palestinian factions.

The deal was sealed by Fatah head Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of the Islamist movement Hamas, at a ceremony in Doha in the presence of Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

The so-called "Doha Declaration" is the latest attempt by the rival movements to implement a reconciliation deal signed last April.

The declaration states that the new Palestinian government will comprise "independent technocrats," and it will also be responsible for overseeing reconstruction efforts in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The new government is to "facilitate the implementation of presidential and parliamentary elections," according to the declaration which was read out to reporters.

Speaking to reporters after signing the declaration, Abbas said his Fatah movement "did not sign this agreement for show... but because we plan to implement it."

"Reconciliation is in the Palestinian and Arab national interest," he said, pledging to implement all terms of the agreement "as fast as possible."

Meshaal said the two factions were "very serious about closing the chapter of division and strengthening" their national unity.

The Palestinians now need to "devote all our power to confronting the occupying enemy," he said in a reference to Israel.

A senior Fatah official told AFP the new government would be announced in Cairo on February 18 at a meeting of all Palestinian factions.

"On the 18th of this month in Cairo, there will be a final declaration on the formation of the new government to be headed by president Mahmud Abbas," Azzam al-Ahmad said.

Ahmad said the Cairo meeting would be attended by the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership and by all Palestinian factions including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

The deal was announced after two days of talks between Abbas and Meshaal intended to break the deadlock in implementation of the April deal, which called for the immediate formation of a temporary government of independents.

Abbas was said to have been insistent that his current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, be allowed to stay on in the post, citing his ties with donor nations who trust the technocrat.

But Hamas had said publicly that it would not accept Fayyad.

After the announcement, both Fayyad and the Hamas prime minister in Gaza City, Ismail Haniya, welcomed the agreement.

"This achievement is a response to our people’s aspirations and ambition to reunify the homeland and its institutions," Fayyad said in a statement.

Haniya "blessed the Doha declaration and confirmed that his government was ready to apply it," a statement said.

But Israel slammed the agreement.

"If Abu Mazen (Abbas) implements what was signed in Doha, he chooses to abandon the path of peace and join himself to Hamas," he told a meeting of his Likud party's ministers, according to a statement from his office.

The Doha deal does not specify when the polls will be held, and though the reconciliation deal set a May deadline, expectations are that the date will slip.

Speaking to AFP before the Doha deal was signed, a Palestinian official said a final date for the polls would likely be set during the Cairo meeting next week.

The last Palestinian elections were held in 2006 when Hamas beat the previously dominant secular Fatah to secure more than half the seats in parliament.

Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza after a week of deadly clashes in June 2007, cleaving the Palestinian territories into rival hostile camps.

Since then, Gaza has been effectively cut off from the West Bank, which is under the control of Fatah.

The Doha declaration also calls for the Cairo talks to address the "restructuring" the Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to which Hamas does not belong.

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