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Rival Palestinian Factions Near Deal on Unity Government


Rival Palestinian factions say they're close to an agreement on a national unity government that would diminish the powers of the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas. The Palestinians hope such a government will clear the way for the resumption of vital foreign aid that was cut off when Hamas came to power nearly eight months ago.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he hopes to form a national unity government with Hamas by the end of the month. Hamas officials confirm a deal is near that would cap months of negotiations with Fatah, the rival faction led by Mr. Abbas.

The aim is to form a new government that would be more acceptable to the international community, after the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority was crippled by international sanctions.

The United States and Europe cut off nearly $1 billion in annual aid, because they regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. Hamas said it seeks Israel's destruction.

But in a major concession, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas has agreed to step down.

Mr. Haniyeh said lifting the international boycott and ending the suffering of the Palestinian people was more important than him being prime minister.

Under the emerging agreement, prominent politicians would be excluded from the new Cabinet, which would be composed of so-called "technocrats" or professionals.

"The leading candidates to be ministers in this government, they are considered to be independent personalities who are not affiliated with any of the Palestinian factions," said Palestinian analyst Wadi Abu Nasser.

The Cabinet would be under the control of President Abbas, a moderate who seeks to revive peace talks with Israel.

"Palestinians believe, it is more likely that the international community will collaborate fully with this government," he added.

The European Union has welcomed the prospects of a unity government, saying it could clear the way for the resumption of aid. Israel says if the new government strengthens Palestinian moderates and weakens the radicals, it is an important step forward.

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