RAMALLAH: Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Monday that he is swearing in a new government without his Hamas rivals by midweek, further dimming chances of a power-sharing deal.
Abbas also announced that his Fatah movement will hold a long-overdue conference July 1 to select new leaders. The last conference was held in 1989, and Fatah s popularity has declined steadily since then, in part because of the movement s failure to renew itself. Most of Fatah s current leaders are well beyond retirement age, but have refused to step aside.
Internal reforms could help Fatah compete against Hamas in general elections, to be held by next year.
Hamas won 2006 parliament elections and overran Gaza a year later, ousting Abbas forces. The takeover left Abbas only in control of the West Bank, but he enjoys broad international support while Hamas remains isolated.
After Israel s war on Hamas in Gaza, which ended in mid-January, Egypt hosted several rounds of Palestinian unity talks. The aim was to set up a unity government, mainly to handle reconstruction in Gaza, until presidential and parliament elections can be held in January.
However, the talks deadlocked over the political program of a joint government. Hamas has balked at Western demands that any Palestinian government recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept previous peace deals.
Abbas announced Monday that he will swear in a new government of Fatah politicians and independents by Wednesday. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a respected economist favored by the West, will remain in his position.
Abbas said unity talks will continue, and that the new government would step down if a power-sharing deal is reached.
The negotiators were to meet Sunday in Egypt for another round of unity talks in Cairo, but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Abbas had already issued a death certificate ahead of talks.
This step is not a good sign…It will deepen divisions, Barhoum said from Gaza.
The Fatah conference, meanwhile, is to bring younger activists into leadership positions. Most members of Fatah s Central Committee are in their 70s. The committee is meant to have 21 members, but five have died of old age since the last convention.
Even though long overdue, Abbas said the convention may not be held if Israel bars Fatah members living in exile from entering the West Bank to attend the gathering. At least 400 Fatah members are expected to come from the Gaza Strip and abroad.
In other developments Monday, a Palestinian military court in the West Bank sentenced a Hamas activist to 18 months in prison for attempting to topple the Abbas government. It was the first time a Hamas supporter was convicted of such a charge since Abbas launched a crackdown on the Islamic insurgents in the West Bank in the summer of 2007, after the Gaza takeover.
Mohammed Qattanani, 33, from the Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus, was also convicted of weapons possession. In the early stages of the crackdown, Hamas supporters were offered amnesty in return for giving up their weapons.
Hamas says hundreds of its activists in the West Bank are being held by the Palestinian security forces. More than 250 are held in Jneid prison in Nablus alone, security officials say.