Abbas says he will dissolve Hamas government in two weeks if it does not bring in Fatah

Friday, October 27th 2006, 4:05 pm
By: News On 6

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he will dissolve the Hamas-led government within two weeks if the Islamic militant group does not agree to form a governing coalition with his Fatah Party, Palestinian officials said Friday.

Abbas told the European Union's top diplomat that he would replace the Cabinet with an apolitical panel of professionals, the officials said.

The moderate Palestinian president has raised the idea before but promised not to force it on a reluctant Hamas. His new stand suggested a willingness to take a stronger line against Hamas in a bid to ease crippling Western sanctions designed to force the Islamic group to moderate its militantly anti-Israel ideology.

The message was relayed to visiting EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana by the Palestinian officials, who agreed to discuss the confidential information with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Solana, in the region trying to breathe new life into peace efforts, urged Palestinian leaders to move urgently to form a so-called national unity government and to ease the deepening plight of the Palestinian people.

After meeting with Abbas on Friday, Solana told reporters that the Palestinian leader ``is determined to move the process of the government to be table ... for it to be accepted by the international community.''

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said Hamas was unaware of Abbas' two-week deadline.

``I don't think it is wise of Abu Mazen to aggravate this crisis,'' Barhoum said, referring to Abbas by his commonly known name.

``Nevertheless, our position is firm: We are working on forming a national unity government,'' he said.

The EU, U.S. and other donors cut off hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinian Authority after the Hamas-led government took office in March. Despite growing hardship in the Palestinian areas, Hamas has rejected international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Abbas, seeking to get the sanctions lifted, has been pushing the Islamic group to enter into a coalition with his more moderate Fatah party. After months of unsuccessful negotiations, Abbas said Thursday there was no point in further dialogue. Nevertheless, Hamas and Fatah officials are to meet in Damascus under Syria's sponsorship in coming days to try to cobble together an alliance.

Abbas, elected separately in 2005, has the authority to dismiss the government. But any new Cabinet would require the approval of the Hamas-controlled government, and if Abbas fails to win that approval, he could be forced to call new elections. Polls show Fatah and Hamas virtually tied, however, and new elections would be a risky move.

The Fatah-Hamas struggle has touched off deadly clashes between rival security forces, and Palestinian officials from both parties said they would increase police presence on the streets of Gaza following talk of heightened unrest on Saturday.

During a stop in a West Bank refugee camp on Friday, Solana expressed hope the Palestinians would soon form a new government more acceptable to the international community because sanctions have taken a heavy toll on ordinary Palestinians.

``The problem is now that the political solution may arrive too late. Things may get too bad that it will be difficult to recuperate. We have to reverse the situation,'' he said during his visit to the Askar camp.

Solana, who is on a six-day mission to the region, met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday and left for Lebanon on Friday. He has meetings planned in Egypt on Sunday.

In violence on Friday, Israeli troops killed three Palestinians in clashes in the West Bank.