Without Hamas, Cabinet sworn in
A new Palestinian government forms in the West Bank.
By KARIN LAUB Associated Press
Published June 18, 2007
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Ignoring Hamas' vehement protests, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday swore in a new government without his political rivals, outlawed Hamas militias and said he'll push hard for a restoration of foreign aid to the Palestinians after a punishing 15-month boycott.
The blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza intensified, meanwhile, as Israel halted fuel shipments. A run on fuel, bread and other basic supplies intensified, driving the price of a box of Marlboro cigarettes -- a reliable gauge of shortages -- up by a third.
Hamas seized control of Gaza last week after five days of intense fighting against forces loyal to Abbas' Fatah. The takeover prompted Abbas to dissolve a Fatah-Hamas coalition government and appoint a new Cabinet excluding the Islamic group.
The hurried swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet left the Palestinians effectively with two governments: the Hamas leadership headed by deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza and the new Cabinet led by the Western-backed economist Salam Fayyad in the West Bank.
"The first priority of our government is security and the security situation," Fayyad told reporters. "The mission will be difficult and hard, but not impossible."
Fayyad, an independent, will retain his post as finance minister and also serve as foreign minister in the emergency government. The small Cabinet is dominated by independents.
In his speech, Fayyad stressed that the government represented Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians claim both areas for a state, but the internal strife has endangered that goal.
Addressing the Palestinians in Gaza, he said: "You are in our hearts, and the top of our agenda. The dark images, the shameful things that are alien to our traditions ... are not going to stop us." It is "time to work together for Palestine," he said.
Abbas cleared the way for the Cabinet to take power by issuing a decree that annulled a law requiring the government to be approved by Parliament, which is dominated by Hamas. He also issued a decree outlawing Hamas' militias "due to their military coup against the Palestinian legitimacy and its institutions."
However, Abbas' attempts to assert control only deepened the Palestinian divisions. In Gaza, Haniyeh called the new government illegal and insisted he remains in power. "The national unity government asserts here that we are fulfilling our duty according to our law, " he said.
In the showdown, much of the international community, including the United States, the European Union and moderate Arab states, is backing Abbas. Declarations of support were likely to be followed soon by a resumption of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, which was cut when Hamas took office last year. The sanctions have caused widespread suffering in the Palestinian areas.
"The first goal we are working to achieve is to end the siege and have a unique relationship with all the nations," Abbas said after swearing in the new Cabinet.
Both Israel and the United States already have said they will work to bolster Abbas, while isolating Hamas. The United States, EU and Israel consider Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, a terrorist group.
At the outset of a trip to the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the new Palestinian government would create a "new opportunity" for reviving peace talks. "We will act with all our might not to miss this opportunity," Olmert said. The situation in Gaza is expected to dominate Olmert's meeting at the White House on Tuesday.
In an interview Sunday, the top U.S. diplomat in Jerusalem said that Washington will fully support Abbas' new government and resume aid. But he acknowledged the moderate president has lost his influence over Gaza, clouding the prospects for a resumption of peacemaking.
"We're not going to lose sight of the need to begin a process between Israel and the Palestinians to resolve the fundamental problems, but before we can do that I think we need to get the (Palestinian) house in order first," Consul General Jacob Walles told the Associated Press.
Gaza isolation: Borders have been closed by Israel and Egypt, raising raised fears of a humanitarian crisis. About 300 Gazans remained trapped at the Erez border crossing with Israel, hoping to escape Hamas rule, Israeli officials said. Israel says it will only let people cross in special cases.
Gas cutoff: The Israeli fuel company Dor Alon said Sunday it was cutting of fuel supplies immediately to Gaza's gas stations. The company is the sole provider to Gaza. Dor Alon will ship fuel to Gaza's power plant, the company said, but about 30 percent of Gazans are cut off from the grid because of damage caused by fighting, and rely on generators. Palestinian health officials warned the shortage could immobilize ambulances and prevent food and medicine deliveries.
Kidnapped journalist: The Army of Islam, a shadowy group that has held BBC correspondent Alan Johnston for three months since his kidnapping in Gaza, threatened Sunday to kill him, in a video on the Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel.
[Last modified June 18, 2007, 00:32:40]
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