Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a unity government on Monday after overcoming a last-minute dispute with the Hamas Islamic group.
Ministers in the new administration, whom Abbas has said would be politically unaffiliated, took the oath of office in a televised ceremony in Ramallah, the Palestinian seat of government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Three ministers from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip were denied entry to the West Bank by Israeli forces.
The formation of the Palestinian unity government faced a last-minute hitch that jeopardized a long-awaited reconciliation deal between President Mahmoud Abbas and the Islamic group Hamas.
Hamas had announced earlier on Monday that it will not support the government because of a decision by Abbas to scrap the Ministry for Prisoner Affairs and replace it with a committee that will fall outside the control of the cabinet.
Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya confirmed Monday that the movement would not join a unity government which does not include a ministry and minister for detainees.
“We have made concessions in all stages and we agreed that the premier of the unity government be affiliated to Fatah, and we agreed that some of the ministers be affiliated to Fatah and the left wing Palestinian factions. However, some sides misunderstood our lenience and flexibility.”
Dissolving the Ministry of Prisoners is a “stab in the back of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners,” he added.
The prisoners’ minister deals with Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Palestinians view the detainees as freedom fighters while “Israel” denounces them as terrorists.
“No, and a thousand times no. How could we possibly abandon those who have spent most of their life (in prison) for the sake of God?” Hamas Interior Minister Fathy Hammad told a gathering in Gaza that had been expected to celebrate the new government.
Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad said that the unity government would be announced and sworn-in at 1 .p.m. as scheduled.
“Those who want to join the government are welcome, and those who want to evade and thus put obstacles in the way just as Israel does, let them take responsibility for their behavior,” al-Ahmad told the Gaza-based al-Quds radio station.
Hamas said it would not recognise such a body, meaning the unity deal would be in tatters from the word go.
A Palestinian official said Abbas wanted to close the ministry to secure continued Western funds for the government, with some international donors warning they would not support an administration that finances Palestinians jailed in Israeli prisons.
Israeli officials has urged the United States and Europe to shun any unity government supported by Hamas, which does not recognise the Israeli right to exist and has not renounced violence, regardless of whether the prisoners’ ministry survives.
(Reuters, Ma’an, Al-Akhbar)