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Abbas 'ready to travel to Gaza' for unity

March 16, 2011 1:55 P.M. (Updated: March 17, 2011 12:10 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas says he is ready to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in an effort to promote reconciliation between his Fatah party and Hamas

Abbas also said he was ready to postpone the formation of a cabinet in order to give Hamas a chance to join a unity government.

"I am ready to delay the formation of the new government to give Hamas a chance to join," he said in a speech at the start of a two-day meeting of the PLO Central Committee, a PLO legislative body of 130 members in which Hamas holds the majority.

"I am ready to delay the formation of a government now if we reach an agreement tomorrow or the day after," Abbas said in a speech broadcast live on Palestinian television.

The president said he would "travel to Gaza tomorrow to end rivalry," not to drag out the process.

Abbas has said previously that he was willing to go to Gaza, but has not visited the coastal enclave since 2007.

The president called upon the Hamas government’s Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to make the necessary arrangements, adding that he would like to meet with representatives of all factions and leaders while in Gaza.

Abbas' comments come the day after Haniyeh invited him to Gaza, as young Palestinians in Gaza City came out in the hundreds of thousands calling for an end to Palestinian rivalry.

In Ramallah, a smaller group of protesters gathered in the city center, and remained there overnight saying they would not leave until unity was achieved.

Gaza government officials immediately welcomed Abbas' comments, with government spokesman Tahir An-Nunu saying Haniyeh would "study the necessary arrangements" for the trip.

Abbas' latest bid for a unified Palestinian government was to create an interim cabinet of technocrats, who would prepare for presidential and legislative elections as well as elections of a new Palestinian National Council within six months.

The president said elections could be sponsored by the UN, the Arab League, the Islamic Conference Organization or Arab and international experts to ensure their fairness.

The appointed Palestinian Authority cabinet resigned on Feb. 14, and Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad to reconstitute the government.

On Tuesday, officials said Fayyad would discuss his proposed government with the leadership in Ramallah on March 21, with the expectation that a cabinet would be announced the following Wednesday.

AFP contributed to this report
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