- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2007

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said yesterday that his militant Hamas government will resign in the coming days — a formality that should clear the way for a new coalition with the Fatah movement.

Mr. Haniyeh acknowledged, however, that the power-sharing deal the two sides reached last week left key issues unresolved — most notably, control over the security forces.

Those issues could still cause the deal to unravel, but Mr. Haniyeh said in a televised address yesterday that both sides were committed to the agreement to bring an end to the bloody infighting that has plagued the Gaza Strip in recent months.

“All Palestinians have won in this agreement,” he said.

Hamas and the Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to a division of Cabinet positions, but have not decided who will get the key post of interior minister and thus exert considerable control over the security forces. Wrangling over such matters contributed to the factional violence that has killed more than 130 Palestinians.

The deal also did not settle the fate of Hamas’ 5,600-strong militia, which was formed last year over Mr. Abbas’ objections. Under one proposal, members of the force would be absorbed into various security branches, as part of an overall reform of the security service, which is loyal mainly to Mr. Abbas.

Mr. Haniyeh said his government planned to resign in the coming days to start the process of forming the new coalition. Once the government steps down, Mr. Abbas would request formally that Mr. Haniyeh set up a new government, said Abbas aide Rafiq Husseini.

Mr. Abbas is trying to win international support for the coalition deal, although it falls short of demands that any Palestinian government recognize Israel and renounce violence.

“We hope the international community will look at the agreement from a positive side,” Mr. Husseini said.

Palestinian officials hoped the deal would lead to a lifting of international sanctions that were imposed on the government after Hamas’ election last year.

But foreign governments said they would wait to study the agreement and to see whether the new government had the will — or ability — to prevent ongoing attacks on Israel, including rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. Yesterday, Gaza militants launched four rockets into Israel, but no one was injured, the army said.

During a meeting with the Israeli parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would reserve judgment on the new Palestinian government until it is formed, participants said.

Mr. Olmert rejected calls to cancel a meeting next week with Mr. Abbas and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying he wants to hear more from the Palestinian leader, said Yuval Steinitz, a committee member.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Miss Rice’s trip is still on. He said the Palestinians have not yet fleshed out the details of their new government, and Miss Rice would talk with Mr. Abbas and “see what shape and scope this agreement has taken.”

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