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Deal reached on Palestinian government

Hamas and Fatah agree on key posts in a new unity Cabinet.

March 15, 2007|Ken Ellingwood | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — The main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, agreed late Wednesday on the makeup of a unity government under a power-sharing agreement reached last month in Saudi Arabia.

The announcement came after Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah met in Gaza City to resolve the final obstacles, including who will fill the key post of interior minister, overseeing thousands of officers in security forces.

The job, which will involve a confusing melange of security forces amid a breakdown in law and order, is daunting. After failing to agree previously on the position, the two leaders settled on a relative unknown: Hani Kawasmi, who has held bureaucratic and academic posts.

The two sides agreed on Azzam Ahmed, who heads Fatah's parliamentary delegation, as deputy prime minister. Salam Fayyad, a U.S.-educated former finance minister, will return to that post, and Ziad abu Amr, a respected independent lawmaker with strong ties to both factions, is to be foreign minister.

Most of the other proposed ministers are relatively obscure figures, some of who have served in the current Hamas government.

The list of proposed Cabinet ministers is to be issued today and then forwarded to the Palestinian parliament for approval, which is expected Saturday.

Haniyeh described the final agreement as "good news for everybody."

The formation of a unity government marks a new chapter in Palestinian politics, which was rocked when Hamas took control after winning parliamentary elections in January 2006.

Since then, the radical Islamic party has ruled alone while locked in an often violent power struggle with the once-dominant Fatah. The agreement to join hands, reached in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, last month, was an attempt to end the factional bloodshed and to try to end an international aid embargo against Hamas, which much of the West considers a terrorist group.

But it remains to be seen whether the formation of a government made up of both parties, and of some smaller factions, can soothe the bitter tensions.

Even as the two leaders met Wednesday night, fresh skirmishing between the two groups left at least seven people injured in the Gaza Strip.

It is also not clear whether the unity government can break the aid blockade. So far, the United States and European Union have demanded that the new government recognize Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by past Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Those three conditions were set out last year by the so-called quartet of Middle East mediators: the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations.

Israel has also said it will not deal with the new government unless it meets the demands, although Israeli leaders say they will continue doing business with Abbas, a relative moderate who favors peace talks.

Under the power-sharing agreement in Mecca, Hamas said only that the new government would "respect" past agreements with Israel, a deliberately vague choice of words aimed at satisfying the Western demands without explicitly recognizing Israel.

ellingwood@latimes.com

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