Abbas says technocrat government is best solution to political standoff
RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday endorsed the idea of forming a Cabinet of professionals instead of politicians, saying it should be “considered seriously” as a way to ease crippling Western sanctions against the government.He added, however, that he would not force the idea on Hamas, and the Islamic ruling party said it believed a broad-based coalition government was still the best option.In the latest violence, meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shot and killed four Palestinians in the West Bank on Tuesday, including two militants.Hamas swept to power in January parliamentary elections, unseating Abbas’ Fatah Party, which had controlled Palestinian political life for decades. But as soon as Hamas set up its government, the United States, European Union and Israel cut off funding because of the militant group’s refusal to renounce violence, endorse previous peace accords and recognize the Jewish state.Months of contacts over forming a unity government and bringing Fatah back to the Cabinet table have also broken down over Hamas’ resistance to meeting the international demands.Elected separately in 2005, Abbas has the authority to dismiss the government, disperse the parliament and call new elections. However, recent polls show Fatah and Hamas virtually tied in support, making that a risky move.Abbas told reporters he would not move toward a technocrat government without Hamas approval.”I prefer it as a solution, because it does solve the problem, but there should be an agreement how long it should serve,” he said.Hamas reacted coolly to the idea. Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said a coalition government was still the best option, adding, “If a national coalition government cannot shoulder the burden of meeting the demands of all our people, I don’t think that a technocrat government can carry this responsibility.”An official close to Abbas said the Palestinian president did not set a deadline and did not appear to be in a hurry to bring the government crisis to a head. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.The Fatah-Hamas struggle, accompanied by severe economic hardships resulting from the Western aid cutoff, has sparked armed violence between security forces of the rival factions. At least 12 people have been killed in the clashes over the past two weeks.Abbas also said Hamas Interior Minister Said Siyam’s new force of 5,700 armed men is illegal. “There is no legitimacy for any force that is created anywhere so long as I didn’t approve it,” he said. The other security forces are loyal to Fatah.Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinians in separate clashes in the northern West Bank on Tuesday. In the city of Nablus, Palestinians said undercover soldiers opened fire on a car, killing a local leader of the Fatah-linked Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and his cousin. The Israeli military said the militant was responsible for attacks against Israelis.In the nearby town of Qabatiyeh, soldiers killed an Islamic Jihad militant and a Palestinian who was throwing rocks at them, both sides said. A teenage rock-thrower was also seriously injured.Elsewhere, the Israeli military said its forces discovered a tunnel under the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt near the Israeli border. The military said it was used to smuggle weapons into Gaza.The military said two other tunnel shafts were discovered, and soldiers planned to blow them up.The Israelis said they have discovered 13 such tunnels in the past three months. Israel has maintained that since it withdrew from Gaza a year ago, turning control of the border over to Egypt and the Palestinians, arms smuggling into Gaza has greatly increased.
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