Palestinian President Forms New Cabinet

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Mahmoud Abbas will announce the formation of a new Cabinet today, with no Hamas members involved.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

It's been a tumultuous week in the Middle East. Factional fighting in the Gaza strip left the Islamist group Hamas in control of the territory. The secular Fatah faction continues to rule the West Bank. Palestinian president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas sacked the unity government he'd formed with Hamas and today he sworn in a new cabinet.

NPR's Linda Gradstein reports from Jerusalem.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: One by one, the new cabinet ministers in the emergency government were sworn in, each promised to uphold the law and work for the good of the Palestinian people.

Mr. SALAM FAYYAD (Prime Minister, Palestine): (Speaking in foreign language)

GRADSTEIN: Salam Fayyad will lead the cabinet as prime minister. He'll also hold the post of foreign minister and finance minister. Fayyad is an independent. The new cabinet is mostly technocrats. The exception is an ex-guerilla chief as interior minister. The emergency government was sworn in after Abbas issued a decree. That decree annulled the law that required the parliament to approve a new government. Abbas also outlawed the militia forces of Hamas.

Abbas' establishment of his new government deepens the rift between Gaza and the West Bank. Incoming Information Minister Riyad al-Malki(ph) says, Gaza is tethering on the brink and Hamas is to blame.

Mr. RIYAD AL-MALKI (Information Minister, Palestine): Hamas decided to replace (unintelligible) military occupation by introducing their own military occupation. So right now, if anyone could describe the situation in Gaza, we'll say Gaza is being occupied - military occupied by Hamas. And right now Gaza is under the Hamas military occupation.

GRADSTEIN: And some Palestinians in Gaza who supported the rival Fatah movement there, now fear for their lives. Hundreds of Fatah officials and their families converged on the areas crossing between Gaza and Israel today. They're hoping to get to the West Bank through Israel. Israel has let some Fatah officials crossed into the country this weekend, but others have been turned away.

In Gaza, residents are stocking up on dwindling supplies especially gas. Israel radio reports an Israeli company has suspended fuel supplies to Gaza in coordination with the Israeli Army. The company, however, said it will continue to supply the fuel needed to run Gaza's power plant.

Israeli officials say Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will provide food and medicine to Gaza via internal aid agencies. Olmert had said the new cabinet without Hamas in the West Bank could be a partner to peace. He's expected to announce that Israel will unfreeze at least some of the $700 million in Palestinian tax revenues Israel has collected during the past 15 months. It's not clear what Palestinian public reaction will be if Abbas spends that money in the West Bank while Gaza starves.

Meanwhile, a Hamas official said today that abducted BBC reporter Alan Johnston will be released within hours. But another senior member of Hamas said that's not at all certain.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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