Abbas swears in emergency Cabinet, outlaws Hamas' militia

Monday, June 18, 2007
Newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, pause during a swearing in ceremony for the new government at Abbas headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Sunday, June 17, 2007. Abbas on Sunday swore in an emergency Cabinet, to replace the Hamas-Fatah coalition he dismantled after Hamas took control of Gaza by force. The Cabinet is led by respected economist Salam Fayyad, who will also serve as finance minister. The man on right is unidentified. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Ignoring Hamas' vehement protests, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday swore in a new government without his political rivals, outlawed Hamas militias, and said he'll push hard for a restoration of foreign aid to the Palestinians after a punishing 15-month boycott.

The blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza intensified, meanwhile, as Israel halted fuel shipments. A run on fuel, bread and other basic supplies intensified, driving the price of a box of Marlboro cigarettes -- a reliable gauge of shortages -- up by a third.

Hamas seized control of Gaza last week after five days of intense fighting against forces loyal to Abbas' Fatah. The takeover prompted Abbas to dissolve a Fatah-Hamas coalition government and appoint a new Cabinet excluding the Islamic group.

The hurried swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet left the Palestinians effectively with two governments -- the Hamas leadership headed by deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza and the new Cabinet led by the Western-backed economist Salam Fayyad in the West Bank.

"The first priority of our government is security and the security situation," Fayyad told reporters. "The mission will be difficult and hard, but not impossible."

Fayyad, an independent, will retain his post as finance minister and also serve as foreign minister in the emergency government. The small Cabinet is dominated by independents, including human rights activists and business people.

In his speech, Fayyad stressed that the government represented Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians claim both areas for a state, but the internal strife has endangered that goal.

Addressing the Palestinians in Gaza, he said: "You are in our hearts, and the top of our agenda. The dark images, the shameful things that are alien to our traditions ... are not going to stop us." It is "time to work together for Palestine," he said.

Abbas cleared the way for the Cabinet to take power by issuing a decree that annulled a law requiring the government to be approved by parliament, which is dominated by Hamas. He also issued a decree outlawing Hamas' militias "due to their military coup against the Palestinian legitimacy and its institutions."

However, Abbas' attempts to assert control only deepened the Palestinian divisions. In Gaza, Haniyeh called the new government illegal and insisted he remains in power. "The national unity government asserts here that we are fulfilling our duty according to our law," he said.

In the showdown, much of the international community, including the U.S., the European Union and moderate Arab states, is backing Abbas. Declarations of support were likely to be followed soon by a resumption of foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, which was cut when Hamas took office last year. The sanctions have caused widespread suffering in the Palestinian areas.

"The first goal we are working to achieve is to end the siege and have a unique relationship with all the nations," Abbas said after swearing in the new Cabinet.

Both Israel and the United States already have said they will work to bolster Abbas, while isolating Hamas. The U.S., EU and Israel consider Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, a terrorist group.

At the outset of a trip to the U.S., Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the new Palestinian government would create a "new opportunity" for reviving peace talks. "We will act with all our might not to miss this opportunity," Olmert said. The situation in Gaza is expected to dominate Olmert's meeting at the White House on Tuesday.

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