Abbas Defies Hamas, Forms New Cabinet in Gaza

Newly-appointed prime minister Salam Fayyad (R) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas

Newly-appointed prime minister Salam Fayyad (R) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (L) during the swearing in ceremony of the new emergency cabinet in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 17, 2007. Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in an emergency Cabinet on Sunday and outlawed the militia forces of the Islamic Hamas movement, which has seized power in the Gaza strip.

Abbas' Fatah movement was ousted last week in Gaza by Hamas. The violence has left the impoverished coastal strip increasingly isolated, a situation worsened Sunday when an Israeli fuel company cut off deliveries to gas stations there.

The hurried swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet left the Palestinians effectively with two governments - the Hamas leadership in Gaza and the new Cabinet in the West Bank led by respected economist Salam Fayyad.

U.S. Consul General Jacob Walles, the top American diplomat in Jerusalem, told The Associated Press Sunday that the United States will fully support the new government, while at the same time working to avoid a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip following Hamas' violent takeover there.

Walles said the priority of the newly formed Palestinian government is "to ensure law and order and security in the West Bank."

Abbas issued decrees Sunday annulling a law requiring the new government to be approved by parliament, which is dominated by Hamas, and outlawing the Islamic group's militias.

"There is one authority, one law and one legitimate gun in all areas of our homeland, in the West Bank and Gaza," he said later.

Despite being named the new prime minister, Fayyad, an independent, will retain his post as finance minister and also serve as foreign minister in the emergency government, which Abbas appointed to replace the Hamas-led Cabinet he fired after Hamas seized control of Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the new government would create a "new opportunity" for the peace process. Olmert has long welcomed Abbas as a negotiating partner, but said Abbas' now defunct alliance with Hamas had made peacemaking virtually impossible. Israel considers Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, a terrorist group.

"We have a new opportunity ... that we haven't had in a long time," Olmert told reporters shortly before leaving for the United States. "A government that is not Hamas is a partner."

Olmert also promised to consider releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen tax funds.

In Gaza, deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh - who has ignored Abbas' order firing him - called the new government illegal and insisted he remains in power. "The council of ministers considers the steps adopted by President Mahmoud Abbas to ... have no basis in law," he said. "The national unity government asserts here that we are fulfilling our duty according to our law."

In an apparent response to Abbas' decree, Haniyeh fired the head of internal security and the director general of the Palestinian police, Hamas-allied Al Aqsa TV said. The decisions were symbolic because both men moved to the West Bank.

The small emergency Cabinet is dominated by independents, including human rights activists and business people. Only one, Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, is a member of Abbas' Fatah movement.

In taking office, Fayyad said the new government would work to end the chaos and provide security for the Palestinians. "We are going to work with clean hands, systematically," he said.

Addressing the Palestinians in Gaza, he said: "You are in our hearts, and the top of our agenda."

It is "time to work together for Palestine," he said.

From The Associated Press

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