Abbas Appoints Crisis Cabinet

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 18, 2007

JERUSALEM, June 17 -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas swore in an emergency cabinet Sunday and officially outlawed the armed wing and paramilitary security branch of the Hamas movement, saying it had carried out a "military coup against the Palestinian legitimacy and its government."

Hamas officials immediately condemned the move as illegal, further deepening the divide between what had been envisioned as the future parts of a Palestinian state. The United States and other foreign donors supported Abbas's decision on the eve of the Israeli prime minister's visit to Washington to discuss how best to engage the Palestinians.

Hours later, two rockets fired from Lebanon fell in northern Israel, damaging a car in the city of Kiryat Shemona. The rocket attack, confirmed by Israeli military officials, was the first from Lebanon since August, when a cease-fire ended Israel's 33-day war against the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah.

Israeli military officials said they were investigating whether Hezbollah or Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon fired the 107mm rockets, which some officials said appeared to be cruder than the thousands Hezbollah fired into Israel during the war. It was unclear whether the attack was connected to Abbas's decision earlier in the day, and Hezbollah denied carrying out the strike.

Hamas, an armed Islamic movement that does not recognize Israel, has long held sway in the Gaza Strip, where nearly 1.5 million Palestinians, most of them refugees, live largely in poverty.

Israel evacuated its 8,500 settlers from Gaza, along with the soldiers who protected them, in the fall of 2005. In the more populous West Bank, where an estimated 250,000 Jewish settlers live in protected enclaves, Abbas's secular Fatah party remains politically strong.

Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip, which the movement seized last week in a rout of the Palestinian security services dominated by Fatah, said they do not recognize the new government, installed without the approval of the Palestinian parliament that their party controls.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas official whom Abbas fired as prime minister last week, said in a statement that the formation of the emergency cabinet has "no basis in law." He declared that the power-sharing government created in March by Fatah and Hamas officials to end a previous round of factional fighting remains in charge.

"The national unity government asserts here that we are fulfilling our duty according to our law," Haniyeh said.

Israeli officials praised Abbas's move, which followed his dissolution of the Hamas-led unity government on Thursday after fighting in Gaza left more than 100 people dead and 500 others wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled that a new Palestinian government, free of Hamas, could prove an opportunity to renew peace negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state.

Olmert arrived in the United States on Sunday and will meet with President Bush. Their talks are likely to focus on the situation in the Palestinian territories and how to improve the standing of moderate Palestinian officials such as Abbas and the new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, an independent lawmaker and former official with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

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