Palestinian PM resigns but Abbas asks him to continue

Sat Mar 7, 2009 12:13pm EST
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By Mohammed Assadi and Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said on Saturday he intended to resign by the end of March in a move that could help unity talks between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader who appointed Fayyad after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, triggering a schism amongst the Palestinians, said he asked the prime minister to stay on until results emerged from the Egyptian-sponsored reconciliation talks.

"Brother Salam Fayyad has submitted his resignation to us in order to support and strengthen the Palestinian dialogue on forming a government," Abbas told reporters.

Islamist Hamas has long criticized Fayyad, accusing him of doing the bidding of the United States and other Western powers which finance his government in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The executive committee of the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, which is run by Abbas, said in a statement that Fayyad's resignation would "pave the way to forming a new Palestinian government emanating from national dialogue."

"This move is meant to encourage the dialogue," an aide to Abbas said. "If we do not reach an agreement, the president can ask Fayyad to continue as prime minister."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said he believed Fayyad's announcement was motivated by "internal and personal differences" with Abbas and not part of an effort to promote unity.

After Hamas beat the long-dominant Fatah in a 2006 parliamentary election, the factions formed a government alliance vexed by disagreement over how, or whether, to pursue peace talks with Israel. Hamas refuses to recognize the Jewish state and was shunned by Western powers that continued to court Abbas.   Continued...

<p>Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) reads the resignation letter of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (L) before a Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive committee meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah March 7, 2009. REUTERS/Thaer Ganaim/PPO/Handout</p>