The Islamic militant group Hamas has taken control of the Palestinian government, naming a 24-member Cabinet that does not include any other political parties. The move came as violence erupted between Palestinian factions, and as Israel opened a key border crossing point to the Gaza strip.
Nineteen members of the new Hamas cabinet belong to the Islamic militant group, but Hamas also included one woman and a Christian in the 24-member cabinet. Hamas named Mahmoud Zahar, a hardliner as foreign minister, and key Hamas leaders were put in charge of important ministries such as the Finance and Interior ministries.
Incoming Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told reporters Hamas hopes to provide stability to the Palestinian territories. Haniyeh says his top priority is to meet the basic needs of the Palestinians and try and stop their suffering.
In a sign of the magnitude of that task, violence broke out in the Gaza strip as gunmen protesting the lack of jobs and late salary payments fought pitched gun battles with Palestinian security forces.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has so far not formally recognized the new Hamas government, but has given indications he will do so. Before that, the Palestinian Parliament must also approve the government - a move expected to take place next week after Israelis go to the polls on March 28.
Speaking after his meeting with Mr. Hamiyeh, President Abbas said Palestinians now more than ever needed to work together. Mr. Abbas says Palestinians now face many obstacles and problems and it is the duty of all Palestinians to try and ease those obstacles.
Meanwhile, Israel eased restrictions at the main commercial crossing point into Gaza, allowing trucks to deliver food. Israel had cited security concerns for closing the crossing, but agreed to reopen it after talks with U.S. officials on Sunday.
The U.N. World Food Program warned that stocks of wheat flour are critically low in the Gaza Strip as a result of closing of the crossing, and that there will soon be no basic food commodities in Gaza.