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Abbas picks ally as new Palestinian premier

Updated March 11, 2019

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Ramallah: Newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh sits behind his desk at his office on Sunday. —AFP
Ramallah: Newly-appointed Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh sits behind his desk at his office on Sunday. —AFP

RAMALLAH: The Palestinian president on Sunday chose a longtime adviser, Mohammed Ishtayeh as his new prime minister, a step that deepens the rift with the Gaza Strip’s ruling Hamas militant group.

The official Wafa news agency made the announcement, saying “President Abbas has given Mohammed Ishtayeh a mandate to form a government.”

The announcement puts a strong proponent of peace talks with Israel, and a fierce critic of Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, in charge of day-to-day Palestinian affairs.

Ishtayeh, a British-educated economist, is a top official in Abbas’ Fatah movement and veteran of past rounds of peace talks with Israel.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces in 2007, leaving the Palestinians torn between rival governments. Hamas continues to rule Gaza, while Abbas’ internationally recognised Palestinian Authority administers autonomous areas of the West Bank.

Sunday’s appointment reflects the failure of years of efforts to reconcile with Hamas.

Ishtayeh succeeds Rami Hamdallah, who had overseen a unity government formed nearly five years ago with the goal of reaching a conciliation deal with Hamas.

Those attempts made little headway, and collapsed a year ago when Hamdallah’s motorcade was targeted by a roadside bomb in Gaza.

Hamdallah announced his resignation in January after years of failure in reconciliation efforts.

Fed up with the lack of progress, Abbas has slashed financial support for Gaza, adding to the hardship in a territory whose economy has been battered by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from arming.

Ishtayeh is now expected to appoint a new Cabinet of Fatah supporters with a heavy focus only on the West Bank.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2019