RAMALLAH, West Bank : Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas swore in
his new cabinet on Sunday and immediately outlawed the rival Hamas
movement's fighters after their bloody seizure of power in Gaza.
The moves further cement the Palestinian divide sparked by the
Islamists' takeover of the impoverished territory, which is completely
cut off from the outside world and fears of a humanitarian crisis are
Adding to the tensions, Israeli troops moved into the north of the
Gaza Strip - now an Islamic enclave on the Jewish state's doorstep - in
what Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh said was a "preventive"
After swearing in the new 12-member emergency cabinet headed by
prime minister Salam Fayyad, Abbas swiftly took aim at Hamas, a group
already branded a terrorist outfit by Israel and the West.
"The executive force and Hamas militias are declared outside the
law for having carried out an armed rebellion against Palestinian
legitimacy and its institutions," according to a decree issued by the
Western-backed Fatah leader.
"Anyone whose ties with these groups is proven will be punished in accordance with the laws under the state of emergency."
Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement whose fighters overran Fatah
strongholds in Gaza after a week of bloody battles, dismissed the new
government as "illegitimate."
Palestinian officials hope however that the creation of the
emergency cabinet without Hamas will lead to the lifting of a crippling
Western aid boycott imposed after it first took power after a January
2006 election win.
And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, now in the United States
for talks with President George W. Bush, said he will work with the new
government as a partner for peace.
Hamas's takeover of Gaza, branded a military coup by Abbas, has
effectively split the Palestinians into two separate entities in Gaza
and the West Bank, making their aspirations of an independent state an
ever more distant dream.
The appointment comes amid a continuing power struggle, with masked
Fatah fighters storming parliament in the West Bank and ransacking
Hamas-linked institutions on Saturday, while Hamas militants hunted out
Fatah men and looters rifled through fallen bastions in the Gaza Strip.
The tit-for-tat revenge attacks stoked fears the deadly factional
violence could spread to the West Bank, which remained largely free of
the bloodletting seen in Gaza over the past few months.
Hamas routed forces loyal to Abbas from Gaza on Friday after days
of gunbattles that left more than 110 people dead, creating what the
Israeli press dubbed "Hamastan".
Abbas, who enjoys the support of the West, declared a state of
emergency and sacked the three-month old Hamas-led unity government,
naming Fayyad, a respected former finance minister and World Bank
economist, as prime minister.
"We insist on organic unity, both administrative and political, of
the two parts of the homeland, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,"
Fayyad said moments after taking the oath of office.
A senior Palestinian official said the US government has indicated
it will resume aid once the new cabinet took office, but a State
Department spokeswoman in Washington said no decision had yet been
With Gaza sealed off from the outside world by Israel, there are
fears of a humanitarian crisis in the tiny strip of land, home to about
1.5 million people and one of the most overcrowded places on earth.
Queues of people were lined up outside bakeries and supermarkets,
as frantic residents stock up on food, fearful of shortages if Israel
keeps all border crossings closed.
"Israel must reinforce the isolation of the Gaza Strip and not let
anything pass except electricity and water," Israeli Infrastructure
Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told army radio, which reported that
petrol supplies had been cut.
But Israel indicated its support of Abbas' new cabinet and
suggested it could release several hundred million dollars owed to the
"A Palestinian government which is not a Hamas government is a
partner and we will cooperate with it," Olmert said as he left for the
"A new reality has been created during these past days which we
haven't known during the long diplomatic efforts accompanying the
evolution of the Palestinian Authority, and we have the intention of
working full-tilt to seize this opportunity," he added.
A senior Israeli official has said the Jewish state was willing to
release hundreds of millions of dollars in custom revenues, which it
withheld following Hamas' election victory, if the new cabinet agrees
to recognise Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by past peace
The so-called Quartet of international mediators for Middle East
peace - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -
have offered their "full support" to Abbas.
Egypt, also wary about the emergence of an Islamic entity on its
border, welcomed the new government and urged rival factions and the
international community to support Abbas to restore order in the
territories. - AFP/so/de