Abbas asks West Bank PM to form unity government

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Photo - FILE - In this file photo provided on Nov. 24, 2011, by the office of Khaled Mashaal, Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are seen together during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt. A negotiator said Monday, May 26, 2014, that he expects a Palestinian unity government to be announced later this week in what would be a first significant step toward ending the crippling rift between Hamas and Fatah. (AP Photo/Office of Khaled Meshaal, File)
FILE - In this file photo provided on Nov. 24, 2011, by the office of Khaled Mashaal, Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are seen together during their meeting in Cairo, Egypt. A negotiator said Monday, May 26, 2014, that he expects a Palestinian unity government to be announced later this week in what would be a first significant step toward ending the crippling rift between Hamas and Fatah. (AP Photo/Office of Khaled Meshaal, File)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree Thursday calling on the prime minister of his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to form a temporary Palestinian unity government, the official news agency WAFA said.

It is not clear if Abbas' decision means the formation of a unity government is imminent or that he is trying to buy more time.

A unity government would consist of technocrats backed by Abbas' Fatah movement and the Islamic militant group Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in 2007. Since the Hamas takeover, the two rival factions have set up separate governments in their respective territories.

For the past five weeks, they have been negotiating who should be in the unity Cabinet. The deadline for an agreement expired Wednesday.

Both sides reported consensus on the names of most of the ministers, but disagreement on who should serve as the foreign and interior ministers.

In his decree Thursday, Abbas asked West Bank Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to form a national unity government. Theoretically, a prime minister assigned to such a task has five weeks to complete it.

Faisal Abu Shahla, a senior Fatah official in Gaza, said he believes the composition of a unity government would be announced later Thursday.

"Both parties have overcome their difficulties," said Abu Shahla, who has been involved in the negotiations.

A unity government is to prepare for general elections in 2015. Abbas has said it will follow his pragmatic political program, which has the backing of the U.S. and Europe.

At the same time, Hamas has been branded a terror group by the West. It's not clear if Abbas can market an alliance with the Islamic militants and ensure the continued flow of foreign aid.

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