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Abbas installs emergency rule

The Baltimore Sun

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas installed an emergency government yesterday and declared the parliament led by his Hamas rivals powerless, a move that paves the way for an end to a Western financial embargo.

U.S. officials said they expected aid to flow quickly to the West Bank, but the fate of Gaza residents remained unclear after Hamas militants seized military control last week of the tiny coastal strip. American and Israeli officials said they would treat the territories as separate entities, supporting Fatah in the West Bank and squeezing Hamas in Gaza.

The emergence of rival governments in Gaza and the West Bank effectively reduced to factional strongholds what Palestinians had hoped one day would become a future state.

But Abbas and his new prime minister, Salam Fayyad, pledged yesterday not to abandon Gaza's 1.5 million residents. They said their government had a legal obligation to pay salaries to about 70,000 public employees in Hamas-controlled Gaza, including the police, many of whom were the targets of the Hamas takeover.

Their pledges underscored the complexity of the rift created by Hamas' military victory and raised questions about whether Western donors can exploit the divide to keep Gaza cut off.

Adding to the turbulence, two Katyusha rockets fired from Lebanon landed in the Israeli northern border town of Kiryat Shmona yesterday evening. They caused some damage but no casualties, an Israeli army spokesman said.

The rockets were the first fired over Israel's northern border since a cease-fire ended last summer's war against Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Hezbollah denied having any connection with the rocket attacks yesterday.

In Gaza, deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, of Hamas, called the new government illegal and insisted that he remained in charge.

The newly installed government is made up mostly of nominal independents who nonetheless are allied with Abbas. They include human-rights activists and business people. The new interior minister, Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, is a Fatah general. Two other Cabinet members are Christians, and two are women.

While swearing in the Cabinet, Abbas decreed that the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority legislature had no power to dismiss the new government or censure its actions. Constitutional experts questioned the decree's legality but noted that the legislature could not meet, for lack of a quorum, because so many of its Hamas members were in Israeli jails.

"There is one authority, one law and one legitimate gun in all areas of our homeland," Abbas declared in a speech.

Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zuhri countered that the new Cabinet was the product of a "Zionist-American plot" to destroy an elected Hamas-led government.

Yet the divide is not as stark as it may seem.

Hamas still recognizes Abbas as president and says it does not want to run a mini-state in Gaza. Haniyeh has asked civil servants loyal to the Abbas government to stay in their jobs. Abbas, who called the rift "temporary," stopped short of outlawing Hamas as a political movement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who traveled to the United States yesterday for a meeting tomorrow with President Bush, welcomed the new Palestinian government.

Maher Abukhater and Richard Boudreaux write for the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times contributed to this article.

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