Palestinian premier resigns to pave way for unity talks

Western-backed Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced on Saturday he would resign by the end of March in a move that could help bolster unity talks between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions.

Islamist Hamas has long criticised Fayyad, accusing him of doing the bidding of the United States. Some Hamas officials have taken to dubbed the “American accountant”.

But shortly after the prime minister’s brief written statement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah told reporters he had asked Fayyad to “continue with his work until we see the results” of Egyptian-sponsored talks between the rivals over forming a new unity government.

Reconciliation talks were expected to resume next week in Cairo. Palestinian officials and Western diplomats said it was unclear whether Fatah, which dominates the occupied West Bank, and the Hamas Islamist group, which controls the Gaza Strip, can narrow their differences and form a unity coalition acceptable to the US and other Western powers.

“Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced tendering the resignation of his Cabinet to President Mahmoud Abbas, effective once a government of national reconciliation is formed, but no later than the end of March,” Fayyad’s office said.

A source in Fayyad’s office added later that the prime minister’s resignation would “take effect by the end of month”, but that Abbas could then ask him to stay on or form another government, regardless of the outcome of unity talks.

Abbas’s authority has been limited to the West Bank since Hamas, shunned by the West for refusing to renounce violence and recognise Israel, wrested control of the Gaza Strip in fighting with Fatah in 2007.

One minister in Fayyad’s Cabinet, Samir Abdallah, said the prime minister’s announcement was meant “to put pressure on those who will be meeting in Cairo to speed up the issue of forming the next government”.

The Cairo talks were set for Tuesday.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said he believed Fayyad’s announcement “was motivated by internal and personal differences” with Abbas and not in an effort to promote unity.

A senior Western diplomat said Fayyad has been saying privately for weeks that he wanted to leave his post “because he doesn’t see any hope” of making progress in peace talks with Israel and healing factional rifts.—Reuters

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