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Abbas swears in new government without Hamas representation

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday swore in a new government comprised mainly of members of his Fatah party, but without representation of his bitter rivals from the militant Islamic Hamas group.

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday swore in a new government comprised mainly of members of his Fatah party, but without representation of his bitter rivals from the militant Islamic Hamas group.

The move underlines the failure of attempts to bridge differences between the two movements, which have been negotiating to form a joint government that would reunite the West Bank and Gaza and open the way for renewed foreign aid.

Hamas overran Gaza nearly two years ago, expelling Fatah forces. The government sworn in Tuesday will effectively only rule the West Bank.

Countries and aid organizations have been dealing with Abbas, but Hamas and Gaza have been largely left out because the European Union, the United States and Israel list Hamas as a terror organization.

In Gaza, Hamas official Mushir al-Masri rejected the new cabinet.

"This government is illegal, unconstitutional and came with the blessing of the Zionist and American administrations, and it poses an obstacle on the way to national reconciliation talks," he said.

After Israel's war on Hamas in Gaza, which ended in mid-January, Egypt hosted several rounds of Palestinian unity talks. The aim was to set up a unity government, mainly to handle reconstruction in Gaza, until presidential and parliament elections can be held in January.

However, the talks are deadlocked over the political program of a joint government. Hamas has balked at western demands that any Palestinian government recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous peace deals.

Abbas has said the new government would step down if a power-sharing deal is reached.

In the meantime, Salam Fayyad will retain his position as prime minister of the government. The respected economist has worked to restore transparency to murky Palestinian finances, a step toward reassuring donor countries that their money is being put to good use.

Speaking to reporters after the swearing-in ceremony, Fayyad pledged to work for reconstruction of Gaza after Israel's offensive there earlier this year. He stressed the need for Palestinian unity and reconciliation.

"This is a high priority for all of us, and we hope we can reach it as soon as possible," he said.

The new Palestinian government has 24 ministries to rule over around 2.5 million people in the West Bank and to provide some services for Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The large government is meant to appease Fatah operatives who have complained that Fayyad had given posts to independents and overlooked Fatah in his first government.

 
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