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The Globe and Mail

Abbas to head new unity Palestinian government

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends the Christmas midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem early Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011.

Majdi Mohammed/AP

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas agreed at a meeting in Qatar on Monday to form a unified Palestinian government for the West Bank and Gaza headed by Palestinian President and Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas, a senior Palestinian official said.

Mr. Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of the Islamist Hamas, said they were serious about implementing the accord almost a year after the two sides signed a reconciliation deal that languished for months and was reaffirmed only in November.

"We are serious, both Fatah and Hamas, in healing the wounds and ending the chapter of division and reinforcing and accomplishing reconciliation," Mr. Meshaal said in remarks televised live by Al Jazeera from Qatar.

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He said the Palestinians wanted to accomplish unity and move forward "to resist the enemy (Israel) and achieve our national goals."

Mr. Abbas, head of the secular Fatah organization, promised that "this effort will be implemented in the shortest time possible".

Fatah and Hamas have been bitter rivals since the Islamist movement seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after a brief war and kicked out Mr. Abbas's Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

The senior Palestinian official said that under Monday's agreement, Mr. Abbas would assume the role of prime minister, replacing Western-backed economist Salam Fayyad. It was not immediately clear if Mr. Fayyad would be a member of the new government or when it would be formed.

The deal provided for a government of independent technocrats to oversee preparations for elections later this year. A vote had been mooted in May but the Palestinian election commission says more time will be needed.

The last presidential and parliamentary elections were held in 2006. Hamas won the parliamentary vote.

The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority supports a negotiated peace with Israel that would give Palestinians an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in Gaza, co-existing with the Jewish state. Hamas is officially sworn to the destruction of Israel but is open to an indefinite ceasefire.

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