The Hamas-dominated Palestinian Government has resigned after 11 turbulent months in power, clearing the way for a unity government intended to end deadly infighting and a Western boycott.
But as moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked outgoing prime minister Ismail Haniyeh of militant group Hamas to form a new broad-based coalition, the White House dashed any Palestinian hopes there would be a swift end to the crippling aid freeze.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Mr Abbas, Mr Haniyeh announced: “As head of the current Government, I submit my resignation to you in order to allow the start of constitutional steps to form a unity government.” Mr Haniyeh will now have five weeks to put together the new cabinet and get it approved by Parliament, which is dominated by his radical Islamist movement.
Mr Abbas also called for the freeing of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Palestinian militants who seized him in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
Mr Haniyeh’s Government resigned a week after Mr Abbas and Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal signed a power-sharing agreement in Saudi Arabia on February 8 in an effort to end the Western aid freeze and draw a line under fighting between their two factions that has left 100 people dead since December.
The White House made clear that US demands remained the same for ending the boycott slapped on the Palestinian Government when Hamas took power last March. Mr Abbas had held talks earlier in the day with US consul-general Jacob Walles. A Palestinian official said Mr Walles had signalled that the US would not recognise the new government as it did not clearly meet the conditions.