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New Palestine government to be announced next week

The new Palestinian national unity government will be announced by the middle of next week, says official.

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The new Palestinian national unity government will be announced by the middle of next week, a senior Palestinian official said after a meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

"There are no obstacles obstructing the announcement of the national unity coalition," presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told a news conference in Gaza City late on Monday.

He said the Abbas-Haniya parley was "positive," and added that "things are going in the right direction ... as we said earlier, the government will be announced most probably by the middle of next week."

Abu Rudeineh's announcement contradicted statements made earlier in the day by Haniya, who told ministers in his caretaker cabinet that "it is in the Palestinian national interest that the national unity government will not be announced before the end of next week".

Officials from Haniya's ruling Hamas movement, who spoke on conditions of anonymity, said the stumbling block to announcing the long-awaited government centred around the allocation of the interior ministry portfolio.

This is a key post, as the minister controls the varied Palestinian security forces. The position is to go to a person unaffiliated with either Hamas or with Abbas' Fatah movement.

Abbas and Hamas leaders agreed on February 8 in Mecca in Saudi Arabia to form a national unity government comprised of Hamas, Fatah and other, smaller factions.

Under the deal, Hamas will receive nine cabinet portfolios and Fatah six. A further six ministries will be headed by independent and unaffiliated figures, and four will be allocated to other Palestinian factions.

The agreement also stipulated that both Hamas and Fatah can nominate three independent candidates for ministries. One of the disputes centres around Ziad Abu Amr, a candidate for the foreign ministry portfolio, with both Hamas and Fatah unable to agree whose independent nominee he should be.

Abbas picked Haniya two weeks ago to form a new government. Under Palestinian law, he has three weeks in which to do so, but can ask for a two-week extension.

Abbas hopes a unity cabinet will lead to the end of a crippling economic and diplomatic boycott on the Palestinian government, imposed by Western countries after the Hamas won power in elections early last year and refused demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence and honour past Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Western countries have insisted the new unity government recognise the Jewish state, but Hamas, which wants an Islamic state from the Mediterranean sea to the Jordan river, refuses to do.