x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Fatah and Hamas set new date for talks on prime minister

Fatah had said it wants to retain prime minister Salam Fayyad to head the new unity government, but the nomination was immediately rejected by Hamas.

CAIRO // Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will meet the Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Cairo next week to finalise a new government put together by the two factions, a top official of his Fatah movement said yesterday.

The meeting was announced as Palestinian factions were in Cairo for reconciliation talks aimed at choosing a prime minister to head the unity government.

"Today, during the talks between the Fatah and Hamas delegations, a meeting was scheduled for next Tuesday between president Abbas and Mr Meshaal to finalise the formation of the new government," said Azzam al Ahmad, who heads the Fatah delegation at the talks.

"They also decided that this meeting will be the last to finalise the issue of the government," he said.

Fatah met a Hamas delegation headed by Mussa Abu Marzuk at the Egyptian intelligence headquarters.

Fatah had said it wants to retain prime minister Salam Fayyad to head the government, but the nomination was immediately rejected by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Mr Fayyad told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah that he would not want to be a stumbling block in the reconciliation deal.

"I assure you that there is no way I can accept that the formation of the unity government be delayed because of me," Mr Fayyad said.

"I will not impose myself on anyone, and I do not want any side to perceive me as being imposed on them. But if there is an agreement on my [nomination], I will be willing to take on the task," he added.

Both Fatah and Hamas said they were optimistic they would reach an agreement.

"God willing, this will be the last round of talks regarding the formation of the government," Mr Ahmad said ahead of the meeting.

"We hope to agree on the name of a prime minister and the members of the government ... We, in Fatah, insist on ending the chapter of division and to implement the deal on the ground. We are optimistic," he said.

The Egyptian-sponsored talks stem from a reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in May aimed at ending years of bitter feuding and laying the groundwork for presidential and parliamentary elections within a year.

Fatah's central committee agreed on Saturday to throw their support behind Mr Fayyad, a former World Bank official and preferred candidate of the international community.

But Hamas rejected Mr Fayyad as a candidate, blaming him for the arrest and alleged torture of its leaders, and plunging the Palestinian Authority into debt.

Izzat al Risheq, a member of the Hamas politburo, said ahead of the Cairo talks that the best way forward in forming the unity government was to exclude controversial candidates.

Hamas has yet to put forward a candidate for the prime minister's post.

Mr al Risheq said the two sides would also be discussing the release of political prisoners.