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Palestinian govt resigns ahead of elections

Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad on Monday resigned and dissolved his cabinet in a major political shake-up ahead of Palestinian elections to be held by September.

world Updated: Feb 14, 2011 15:32 IST

Palestinian premier Salam Fayyad on Monday resigned and dissolved his cabinet in a major political shake-up ahead of Palestinian elections to be held by September.

The move, which was announced during an early-morning cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has been on the cards since the end of November, but was delayed by the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, officials said.

"Dr Fayyad told the ministerial council that our government has resigned," the minister said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Immediately afterwards, Fayyad went to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to present him with the official later of resignation, a senior official said.

"Fayyad went to Abu Mazen to inform him and they're still meeting," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity and referring to Abbas by his nom-de-guerre.

He added that there would be an official statement after the meeting.

Plans to reshuffle the cabinet had been announced by Abbas in late November, when he confirmed that Fayyad would keep the post which he has held since 2007.

Abbas was expected to ask Fayyad to immediately begin work on forming the first new government since May 2009, which will be tasked with pushing through the final stages of the premier's two-year plan for building the institutions of state -- due to be completed by August.

The new government will also have to tackle plans for holding presidential and parliamentary elections by September -- a deadline which was announced on Saturday by the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

Last week, the cabinet also approved plans to hold local elections on July 9, in what will be the first time Palestinians have gone to the polls since 2006.

But both announcements were firmly rejected by Gaza's Hamas rulers, who have been locked in years of bitter rivalry with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority of Abbas, which is dominated by the secular Fatah movement.

"This procedure is invalid because president Abbas has no legitimacy and is not fit to organise such elections," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said on Saturday.

Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and kicked out Fatah forces after a week of bloody street battles, has refused to recognise the authority of Abbas since his term as president ended in January 2009.

His term was indefinitely extended until new elections in a bid to avoid a political vacuum.

But, since then Hamas's refusal to participate in or recognise elections called by Abbas has torpedoed plans to hold a general election in January 2010 and local elections in July.

The Islamist group's intransigence is likely to mean elections will only be held in the West Bank.

Attempts to reconcile the two warring movements, which were spearheaded by Egypt, have so far led nowhere, with a resolution of the dispute looking even more remote after the overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak on Friday.

Mubarak and his administration had been key players in the attempts to broker a solution between Hamas and Fatah until the overthrow of the regime last week following 18 days of massive public protest.

Also at the weekend, Saeb Erakat tendered his resignation as chief Palestinian negotiator after the leak of thousands of secret peace talks documents to Al-Jazeera.

The files, dubbed The Palestine Papers, revealed a series far-reaching Palestinian concessions on the sensitive subjects of Jerusalem and refugees.

Erakat said he was standing down not because of the contents of the papers but because he was assuming "responsibility for the theft of documents from his office" which he claimed had been "deliberately" tampered with.