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Abbas asks Fayyad to form new government

Feb. 14, 2011 9:27 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 15, 2011 3:01 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tendered his government's resignation Monday, just months before expected local and legislative elections.

The move, announced during an early morning cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, had been discussed since June 2010, with the latest delay due to the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, officials said.

Following the resignation, Abbas asked Fayyad to work to appoint a new cabinet, which would focus on "mobilizing the energy of Palestinians to support national institutions with the aim of quickly establishing a Palestinian state by September."

Abbas directed Fayyad to consult civil society, institutions and the political factions as he formed the new cabinet, and thanked the outgoing members for their time and efforts.

Officials said at least one new ministry would be created, under the tentative title of Ministry of Civil Society, while seven others would change, including the ministries of health, agriculture, tourism, and foreign affairs.

"The new government will represent all the PLO factions in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, and will also include academic personalities," the source said.

Reforming the cabinet is expected to take two weeks, a government source told Ma'an ahead of the resignation.

The source said 19 government ministerial positions are expected, down from the current 21.

A government official recently told AFP that consultations on forming a new government had been delayed by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

In an interview with The Washington Post on Sunday, Fayyad said he was confident of Egypt's future support for the PA, despite the political changes there that resulted in the departure of President Hosni Mubarak Friday.

"Why would I presume that Egypt in the aftermath of this movement is going to be any less supportive?" he asked. "Egyptian people are very supportive of the Palestinian people."

On Saturday, the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank announced plans to hold elections by September, running into immediate opposition from its Islamist Hamas rivals in the Gaza Strip.

The Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee's call for presidential and legislative polls came amid stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian talks and the political upheaval in Egypt, a key player in peace efforts.

Hamas had already killed off a PA plan to hold a Palestinian general election in January 2010.

The Islamist movement scored a surprise triumph in a legislative election in 2006 and seized control of Gaza in June 2007, ousting Fatah in a week of deadly street fighting.

The PLO, which groups the main Palestinian nationalist movements but not Hamas, has been led by Abbas since 2004. His mandate as president expired in January 2009 but was extended until new polls to avoid a political vacuum.

"The Executive Committee has decided to start preparations for presidential and parliamentary elections in the coming months ... no later than September," the PLO's Yasser Abed Rabbo told journalists on Saturday.

Hamas immediately rejected the latest elections plan. "This procedure is invalid because president Abbas has no legitimacy and is not fit to organize such elections," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

Abbas's government last week also called local elections for July 9, the first Palestinian vote since 2006. But the Hamas rulers of Gaza vowed to ignore that decision, limiting the poll to the West Bank.

AFP contributed to this report
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