Palestinians Form Unity Government


Palestinian leaders unveiled a new unity government yesterday that they hope will stop months of deadly factional violence and end a crippling international aid boycott.

The new coalition unites the Hamas movement with president Mahmud Abbas’ Fatah party and was formed after weeks of wrangling over the line-up.

Prime minister-designate Ismail Haniya of Hamas presented Abbas with the final list of ministers at a ceremony in Gaza City.

Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaynah confirmed: ‘The prime minister-designate presented the final list of the government of national unity to the president who will approve it by decree.’

The announcement came after the two rival parties finally decided on a candidate for the powerful interior ministry.

Rudaynah said that President Abbas had selected Hani al-Qawasmeh, a top figure in the ministry currently run by Hamas minister Mahmud Zahar, for the portfolio.

In addition to the interior minister, Fatah and Hamas have already agreed to name independent Ziad Abu Amr as foreign minister and to return Salam Fayyad, a former finance minister widely respected in the West, to that job.

The Palestinian parliament is expected to vote on the new cabinet tomorrow.

Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement reached in Saudi Arabia last month, Hamas will occupy nine cabinet seats plus the premiership and Fatah will take six.

Hamas will nominate another three ‘independent’ ministers and Fatah two.

Israel said it would be ready to work with the new cabinet under certain conditions, but stuck to its official stance that it would not recognise the unity government if it did not agree to abide by Western demands.

Israel froze ties with the Palestinian National Authority after a shock election win by Hamas, which has been running the government for almost a year.

‘If the new government manages to guarantee a swift and successful end to the problems of Gilad Shalit and the ongoing Qassam (rocket) fire, Israel will use a pragmatic approach that will allow working with the government,’ a senior Israeli official said.

But another Israeli official said: ‘It is difficult to see any positive movement. On the contrary, we can see a clear regression on previous Palestinian documents.’

It remained unclear yesterday whether the Middle East Quartet of international key players would agree to lift the current economic boycott on the Palestinians.

• Second news story


An Iraqi appeals panel has confirmed the death sentence on Taha Yassin Ramadan, who served as vice president to executed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, puppet Iraqi officials said yesterday.

Ramadan was sentenced to death on February 12 for crimes against humanity by the Iraqi High Tribunal. This overruled the life sentence that he had been originally sentenced to.

His sentence was automatically reviewed by the appeals panel which yesterday confirmed the execution by hanging.

‘Yesterday, all the members of the appeals court ratified the death sentence on Taha Yassin Ramadan,’ Judge Munir Haddad of the appeals panel told a press conference.

‘He can be hanged at any moment but the official period is that the sentence be carried out within 30 days of it being confirmed by the appeals court.’

A senior Iraqi official said that Ramadan is likely to be hanged by the end of this month.

Ramadan was originally given a life sentence but the prosecution filed a petition demanding he also be hanged.

Saddam and two other former aides, Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Awad Ahmed al-Bandar, have all been hanged.

Saddam was executed on December 30 while Barzan and Bandar were hanged on January 15.