Palestinian unity gov't sworn in
Updated: 2014-06-03 09:54
A Palestinian man holds a poster of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as he celebrates the announcement of the unity government, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip June 2, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]
A long-awaited Palestinian unity government was sworn in before President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday after a landmark reconciliation deal with the Islamist group Hamas that has infuriated Israel.
Following a ceremony at the Muqata presidential compound in Ramallah, West Bank, Abbas hailed "the end" of a bitter and sometimes bloody divide between his Fatah movement and the rival Hamas, which rules Gaza.
Hamas also applauded the new government as representing "all Palestinians," saying it was a "turning point" in its formerly bitter relations with Fatah.
|Abbas announces end of Palestinian political division|
Standing on a red carpet lined with Palestinian flags, the new ministers filed past, each laying a hand on either a Quran or a Bible to take the oath of office as Abbas stood by.
"Today, we announce that we have restored national unity, the unity of the homeland and its institutions. The division has gone once and forever," Abbas said.
It is the first Palestinian unity government to take office in seven years, and the first fruits of a landmark reconciliation deal signed in April.
"Today, with the formation of a national consensus government, we announce the end of a Palestinian division that has greatly damaged our national case," said Abbas.
"This black page in history has been turned forever," he pledged in remarks echoed by the outgoing Hamas government in Gaza.
"We hail the national consensus government, which represents all the Palestinian people," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, describing it as "a turning point".
Hours earlier, a dispute over the fate of the Prisoner Affairs Ministry raised fears that the government could be delayed, but the issue was resolved after the parties agreed the portfolio would be held by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. He will also head the Interior Ministry.
The new Cabinet, which was pieced together by Fatah and Hamas, has 17 ministers, all of them political independents. Technocratic in nature, the new government will not have a political mandate.
The government includes three women and five ministers who come from Gaza. Over the weekend, Israel blocked three of the Gazans from traveling to Ramallah for the oath-taking.
Abbas has pledged that the new administration will abide by the principles laid down by the Middle East Quartet for peace: recognize Israel, reject violence and abide by all existing agreements.
Under terms of a deal signed on April 23, the Fatah-led Palestine Liberation Organization agreed to work with Hamas to establish an interim government of independents that would organize long-delayed elections.
The surprise agreement sought to end years of bitter and sometimes bloody rivalry that had seen the establishment of rival Palestinian administrations, with the West Bank ruled by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, and Gaza under Hamas authority.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Abbas to express "concern about Hamas' role in any such government," the State Department said.