August 30, 2006

Annan voices support for Palestinian unity govt

By Wafa Amr and Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary General Kofi
Annan on Wednesday voiced support for the formation of a
Palestinian unity government that Palestinian leaders hope
could ease foreign sanctions imposed after Hamas won elections.

"This is a very important process," he said after meeting
President Mahmoud Abbas, who has renewed efforts to create a
partnership between his Fatah movement and the governing Hamas
militant group.

"If the Palestinians can unite around a common, realistic
program and if it can help bring the security situation under
control, it would be a very positive development indeed and the
United Nations will do whatever it can to support you," he

Western donor nations have been withholding aid to the
Palestinian Authority since Hamas came to power after a January
election and rejected their demands that it recognize Israel,
renounce violence and accept previous interim peace deals.

That has deepened economic crisis in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, where government workers have gone unpaid since March.

Abbas later traveled to Gaza for marathon talks with Hamas
Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on a unity government. "We hope
we will reach a result as soon as possible," he said.

An Abbas aide said the president was determined to achieve
a breakthrough -- either by winning over Hamas or acting
against it should the talks fail. Abbas could, in theory, fire
Haniyeh, though analysts consider this unlikely given Hamas's
popularity and Palestinian fears such a move would inflame

"We believe this time Abbas is serious and will take action
against the Hamas government if they do not accept his terms,"
the aide told Reuters on condition of anonymity.


Hundreds of civil servants, organized by a Fatah-led union,
held a rally for back wages outside Abbas's office in the West
Bank city of Ramallah before his meeting with Annan.

Abbas, addressing the crowd, accused Hamas and militants of
working against national interests by refusing to soften their
policies toward Israel.

"He who wants a government that serves the people, should
really seek a government that is capable of ending the siege,
capable of protecting the people's interests and capable of
paying salaries," Abbas said.

A unity government, he said, must include "all political
colors. It should be capable of restoring relations
internationally and regionally and it should have a political

Israel, which pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza
Strip last year, renewed military ground operations in the
territory two months ago after militants from Hamas and two
other groups seized a soldier in a cross-border raid.

Nearly 200 Palestinians, about half of them civilians, have
been killed in the offensive, which Israel says is also aimed
at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on its southern towns.

"Pointless rockets should stop because they serve no
interest ... (and) harm the interests of our people," Abbas

Civil servants plan to go on an open-ended strike on
Saturday and have threatened to shut down government
institutions, save for hospitals and border crossing points.

Hamas had urged its employees not to strike.

Haniyeh said in a statement demonstrations should be
directed against "the real address which imposes the siege on
our people," a reference to Israel.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)