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Palestinians to vote in new Unity Govt

world Updated: Mar 17, 2007 14:30 IST

AFP
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The Palestinian parliament was set to vote in a long-awaited unity government on Saturday amid hopes it will end a turbulent year of deadly power struggles, international isolation and economic hardship.

Lawmakers were expected to give near-unanimous approval to the broad-based cabinet, which unites the rival Fatah and Hamas factions, in a parliamentary session due to open at 11 am.

The vote was to follow a speech by prime minister designate Ismail Haniya in which the Hamas leader was to present the incoming government and its programme to MPs. President Mahmud Abbas was also expected to give a brief address.

Haniya's speech will be closely followed by Israel and the West for clues to the new government's position on issues key to restarting peace talks and resuming much needed Western aid to the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority.

Israel has already denounced the unity government and called on the international community to maintain the boycott it adopted last year after the Islamists of Hamas took power.

The so-called Quartet of major players in the peace process -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- has been calling on the new government to renounce violence and recognise Israel and past peace deals for the flow of aid to resume.

The European Union and the United States have both given the unity cabinet a guarded welcome, adopting a wait-and-see approach.

"We will wait until the government is actually in place and we have an understanding of what their platform will be before we make any final judgements about it," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Thursday.

France and Russia have distanced themselves from the Quartet demands and indicated a greater willingness to work with the incoming Palestinian government.

Hamas will take 12 of the 25 portfolios in the coalition cabinet, while Abbas's Fatah faction will take six.

Seven ministries, including the powerful finance, foreign affairs and interior posts, will go to independents and smaller factions.

The Palestinians hope the new government will usher in an era of calm and economic prosperity after a year of bloodshed and boycott.

Lawlessness and factional violence have ravaged Gaza in the past 12 months while in the West Bank strikes by public employees over wage arrears have brought government services to a standstill.

"Big challenges lie in front of this government," the spokesman for the outgoing Hamas-led government Ghazi Hamad told the agency on Saturday.

"The path is not lined with flowers, but there is a commitment to progress now."

The east Jerusalem daily Al-Quds hailed the new government Friday as a sign that the Palestinians had "passed the stage of barbaric fighting," while shopkeepers in Gaza's teeming refugee camps voiced rare optimism.