Hamas Government To Step Down

Monday, February 12th 2007, 6:09 am
By: News On 6

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Senior Palestinian officials said Monday they will start forming a new, national unity government in coming days, but acknowledged that previous dealbreakers, such as control over the security forces and the fate of Hamas' militia, have still not been resolved.

Under the power-sharing deal reached last week in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Hamas-led Cabinet is to step down in the coming days to make way for a coalition government with the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The two sides have agreed to a division of Cabinet posts, but have not yet reached agreement on the names of most of the government ministers. One unresolved issue is who will be interior minister and thus exert considerable control over the security forces. Wrangling over such control helped spark deadly Hamas-Fatah clashes in Gaza in recent months.

The deal also did not settle the fate of Hamas' 5,600-strong militia, which was formed last year over Abbas' objections. Under one proposal, the force would be dismantled and its members assigned to various security branches, as part of an overall reform of the security, who are mainly loyal to Abbas.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of Hamas, returned to Gaza on Monday and said his government planned to resign in the coming days to start the process of forming the new coalition.

``We are convinced of the necessity of speeding up the resignation to within days, possibly Wednesday, Thursday or Friday,'' Haniyeh told reporters at the Egypt-Gaza border crossing.

Under the Mecca deal, Hamas is to propose candidates for interior minister, and Abbas has the right to choose one of them. Haniyeh said Monday that Hamas has proposed two candidates, but hasn't heard back from Abbas yet.

Haniyeh, who has five weeks to put together a government, is to meet with Abbas on Thursday. Two key portfolios, foreign and finance, already have been assigned to independents.

Once the Hamas government resigns, Abbas would send a letter of designation for a new coalition, to be headed by Haniyeh, said Abbas aide Rafiq Husseini.

Abbas wants to move quickly and hopes to issue the letter within days, Husseini said.

Abbas is also trying to win international support for the coalition deal, even though it falls short of demands that any Palestinian government recognize Israel and renounce violence. The Mecca deal says the coalition would ``respect'' all agreements signed by the PLO, including those with Israel, but does not specifically recognize Israel's right to exist.

The agreement moves in the direction of the international community's demands, Husseini said. ``We hope the international community will look at the agreement from a positive side,'' he added.

Palestinian officials hoped the deal would lead to a lifting of international sanctions that were slapped on the government after Hamas' election last year.

But foreign governments said they would wait to study the agreement and to see if the new government had the will _ or ability _ to prevent ongoing attacks on Israel, including rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, Gaza militants launched four rockets into Israel, causing no injuries, the army said.

Abbas is meeting in Jordan on Tuesday with Russian President Vladmir Putin. Russia is one of the members of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators, along with the U.S., Europe and the U.N.