Rival Palestinian Governments Europe, US and Israel Promise Aid to Fatah

The military coup by Hamas in Gaza has been countered by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas with a new Fatah-led "emergency cabinet," sworn in on Sunday. The new developments have prompted the US and Europe to pledge to release frozen aid money to the Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a new emergency cabinet on Sunday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a new emergency cabinet on Sunday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in the cabinet of a new emergency government in the West Bank on Sunday and outlawed the Hamas militia for staging a "military coup against the Palestinian Authority" in the Gaza Strip, where Abbas and his Fatah party have effectively lost control. Following Abbas's move, Israel, the United States and the European Union issued pledges that frozen aid would soon be funnelled to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

On Friday Abbas appointed finance minister Salam Fayyad as prime minister, and on Sunday he swore in a whole emergency cabinet of independent lawmakers, including human rights activists and members of the business community. The move bypassed the Palestinian Authority parliament, where Hamas holds a majority. But Israel and the United States have indicated they would end a crippling 15-month financial boycott on the Palestinian government with Hamas frozen out, and the European Union openly promised on Monday morning to do the same.

"There will be a part of the (aid) money that will be direct," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters on Monday. "It is very important that (the new government) is able to construct a budget." Solana added that the budget should not abandon people in the Gaza Strip and hinted at indirect aid to help ordinary people there.

"We absolutely have to back" the new West Bank government, said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn. "The question of today is: How can we help the 1.4 million people in Gaza?"

Two territories, two governments

Abbas's weekend maneuver means that there are now effectively two Palestinian governments -- the new West Bank cabinet as well as the old cabinet, now led from Gaza by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who has been in power since Hamas won a parliamentary election in early 2006. Although Abbas dismissed him from office, Haniyeh still considers himself the legitimate leader of the Palestinian Authority and accuses Abbas of cooperating in a US-led coup.

Many European leaders on Monday disagreed with that opinion. Abbas declared a new cabinet only after a violent takeover of government offices in Gaza by masked Hamas militants, who had been fighting in the streets with Fatah gunmen for weeks. "I think that it is mainly to Hamas that we have to look when we have to point the finger at someone," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

A few European leaders privately said they weren't sure what Abbas had done was legal, though, and some questioned the strategy of ghettoizing radical Hamas leaders and more than a million Palestinians in Gaza. "It may solve the problems of today, said one senior EU diplomat, according to Reuters. "But what about the future?"

Western countries imposed an aid embargo after Hamas first organized its government in March 2006 because the hard-line Islamists refused to recognize Israel, renounce violence or abide by interim peace deals struck between the Palestinians and the Israelis

The Bush Administration said it was ready to lift its economic and diplomatic embargo on the Palestinian Authority now that it no longer included Hamas. During a visit with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his government would also consider releasing hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Palestinian tax funds.

"I promised the Palestinians that our government would consider the new Palestinian government free of any Hamas people as a genuine partner," he said. "We will cooperate with this government."

An estimated 1.4 million people in the Gaza Strip -- a third of the Palestinian Territories' combined population -- were facing chaos, isolation and shortages of fuel and food as a result of the rift between Hamas and Fatah. But the Israeli fuel company Dor Alon said Monday it would resume gasoline shipments to Gaza after suspending deliveries to the area last week.



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