Fatah Official: Abbas Making Progress

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has sworn in a new Cabinet, days after Hamas seized control of the Gaza strip, leading Abbas to end the unity government that had been in place for the past three months. Host Debbie Elliott talks with Riyadh Malki, the new Fatah-backed information minister, about the Palestinian government.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Next we turn to Riyad Maliki. He's the information and justice minister in the new government of Palestinian President Mahmound Abbas. He joins us from Ramala.

Mr. Maliki, the new prime minister said today that security will be a priority for the new government. We see a picture in today's paper here of masked gunmen from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade standing in the Palestinian Parliament. We understand they were expelling Hamas members. Are these the people who will be providing security in the West Bank?

Mr. RIYAD MALIKI (Information and Justice Minister, Palestine): No. To the contrary, you know, these are part of the problem. We as a government want to translate what our president have said a long time ago since he won elections that we need to set up one authority, one law and one weapon. And when we talk about weapon, we are referring to the official one - the thing that belong to the Palestinian authority.

And whoever has the private or militia weapon is not really part of what we'll - we do mean. And so the picture that you refer to is a big show that we don't want to repeat, we don't want to see it again not only in Ramala, but anywhere else in Palestinian territories.

ELLIOT: President Abbas has banned armed groups associated with Hamas. Does that mean your government will actively go in after armed Hamas loyalists in the West Bank?

Mr. MALIKI: No. Just to correct that information, what President Abbas did was to ban the eclectic force that was created by the interior ministry under the control of Hamas. Hamas, let's say, was not done and the militia of Hamas not here.

ELLIOT: What about Fatah-affiliated militants? Will you try to disarm those groups as well?

Mr. MALIKI: I think, you know, if anyone wants to start somewhere has to start with these people because at the end of the day, we are not going to differentiate between one militia and the other. We want to see that, you know, law and order is being really respected except and absorbed by other people like the innocents.

ELLIOT: Are there any fears of a replay of the gun battles that we saw last week in Gaza?

Mr. MALIKI: No, absolutely not. You know, what happened that - now we have a government, and starting by tomorrow, we will start introducing the actions that will try to impose law and order in the streets, in the cities of the war, and people will start by tomorrow seeing really the difference.

ELLIOT: Israel is expected to release tax revenues it has frozen since the Hamas-led government took power and European governments in the United States also talking about potentially freeing up funds to your new government in the West Bank. Are you at all worried about the reaction of Palestinians in Gaza and perhaps abroad if they see money flowing into the West Bank while the people of Gaza are suffering economic hardship?

Mr. MALIKI: Why you assume that the money will go only to the West Bank and not also to Gaza. We are not going to differentiate between one and the other based on affiliation or based on geographical location. And this is extremely important for us for as a government.

ELLIOT: But how would you be able to help people in Gaza when Hamas has controlled there now?

Mr. MALIKI: Well, we are going to look at it and we have to ask our experts how to deal with that. I cannot answer you right now, but we are determined to look into that and to be able to deliver.

ELLIOT: Has the world just witnessed the final divorce between Fatah and Hamas, or do you see room for reconciliation down the road?

Mr. MALIKI: Of course, there are always rooms for low reconciliation. It's very important that Hamas would understand that, you know, there's only one government and that government is the government of the President Abbas, with such conditions. I think there is not problem for thinking and engaging again in any form of negotiation.

ELLIOT: Is there any dialogue underway now?

Mr. MALIKI: No, absolutely not.

ELLIOT: Riyad Maliki is information and justice minister in the new Palestinian government on the West Bank. Thank you.

Mr. MALIKI: Thank you.

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