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Diplomat tells Abbas U.S. may end embargo

Sun., June 17, 2007, midnight

RAMALLAH, West Bank – Mahmoud Abbas got a major boost Saturday in his increasingly bellicose showdown with Hamas, with a U.S. diplomat saying he expects a crippling embargo to be lifted once the Palestinian president appoints a government without the Islamic militants.

The U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, Jacob Walles, met with Abbas at his headquarters in Ramallah on Saturday.

“I expect that we are going to be engaged with this government,” Walles said after the meeting. “I expect that early next week. There will be some announcements in Washington, specifically about our assistance and about the financial regulations.”

But the money is unlikely to reach Gaza, controlled by Hamas and cut off from the world.

The new Cabinet is to be sworn in today in the West Bank, where Fatah forces stormed government offices on Saturday, just three days after Hamas seized control of Gaza and Abbas dismantled the Hamas-Fatah coalition government in response.

Abbas issued a decree early today annulling a law requiring the new government to be approved by parliament, which is dominated by Hamas.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the decree was illegal.

“This escalates the crisis, and the president bears the responsibility for all the consequences of these developments,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the new Palestinian government would create a “new opportunity” for the peace process. Olmert has long welcomed Abbas as a negotiating partner, but said Abbas’ alliance with Hamas made peacemaking virtually impossible.

In Gaza, panicked residents stocked up, fearing growing shortages of food, fuel and other staples as the crossings of the fenced-in strip with Israel and Egypt remained closed. Hundreds of other Gazans rushed to the border crossing with Israel to try to escape Hamas rule, but found gates locked. Israeli troops briefly fired warning shots.

Senior officials of Abbas’ Fatah movement, who had fled Gaza, started reaching the West Bank. The head of Palestine TV said he had crawled for several hundred yards to evade gunfire at the Gaza-Israel crossing.

Across Gaza, Hamas cemented control. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh replaced Fatah security commanders with his own men, and Hamas gunmen rounded up their opponents’ weapons.


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