March 8, 2009 in Nation/World

Key Palestinian official will quit position

Unity talks between Hamas, Fatah cited
Howard Schneider Washington Post
Associated Press photo

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad arrives for a meeting in Ramallah Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

JERUSALEM – Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, respected by Western and Israeli officials for his oversight of security and aid programs in the West Bank, said Saturday that he would resign by the end of March in the hope of furthering reconciliation talks between Palestinian factions.

Talks aimed at creating a unified Palestinian government are under way in Cairo between the rivals, the Islamist Hamas movement and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, which since a violent 2007 clash have divided control of Palestinian society. Hamas is in charge of the Gaza Strip, and Fatah is in charge of the West Bank.

In announcing that he would step down along with the other members of his Cabinet, Fayyad said he wanted to move aside in deference to a “national consensus government” that could soon take over and pave the way for overdue presidential and legislative elections early next year.

The Obama administration hopes to restore progress toward a resolution of the Middle East conflict – U.S. diplomats held talks with the Syrian government Saturday in Damascus as part of one new initiative – but the cleavage in Palestinian society is considered a significant barrier.

Fayyad, a political independent with a technocratic background, has been in the middle of that partisan divide. Hamas has criticized his involvement in a government the group considers illegitimate, while some Fatah members have been upset that party loyalists were not awarded more top government jobs.

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