December 18, 2014
Abbas swears in Palestinian unity gov't
President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a Palestinian unity government today in a reconciliation deal with Hamas Islamists that led Israel to freeze US-brokered peace talks.
Abbas, who heads the mainstream Fatah movement, has said the 17-member cabinet would be comprised of unaffiliated ministers and that it would strive to pursue peace, despite Hamas's refusal to accept co-existence with Israel.
Ministers in the new administration took the oath of office in a ceremony in Ramallah, the Palestinian seat of government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Three ministers from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip were denied entry to the West Bank by Israel.
"Today and after announcing the government of national unity we declare the end of division that caused catastrophic harm to our cause," Abbas said.
Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank is dependent on foreign aid, appeared to be banking on Western acceptance - over Israeli objections - of a 16-member cabinet of what he described as politically unaffiliated technocrats.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged world leaders not to rush into recognising the new Palestinian government, saying it would serve as a front for Hamas and "strengthen terrorism".
Setting a policy in line with US and European Union demands, the Western-backed leader said his administration would continue to honour agreements and principles at the foundation of a peace process with Israel.
Hamas, which advocates Israel's destruction, has run the Gaza Strip since seizing the territory from Abbas's Fatah forces in a brief civil war in 2007. Numerous reconciliation efforts, largely brokered by Egypt, have failed over power-sharing.
"Today, and after announcing the government of national unity, we declare the end of division that caused catastrophic harm to our cause," Abbas said, voicing sentiments widely shared by Palestinians, as ministers took the oath of office in a ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Ismail Haniyeh, the outgoing Palestinian prime minister in Gaza, said in a speech in the enclave that it was "a historical day" that closed a "chapter of seven years of division".
But in his address, Haniyeh spoke of pursuing "resistance by all forms", an apparent reference to actions that include armed conflict with Israel, and he said the unity deal meant that Hamas's militia, the Qassam Brigades, "became an army today".