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Palestinian PM resigns citing 'new reality' of Gaza war

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh at the cabinet meeting where he announced his resignation, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on February 20, 2024
— Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced Monday the resignation of his government, which rules parts of the Israeli occupied West Bank, citing the need for change after the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza ends.

Shtayyeh submitted the resignation to the leader of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, president Mahmud Abbas, 88, whose office later said he accepted it.

The United States and other powers have called for a reformed Palestinian Authority to take charge of all Palestinian territories after the end of the war sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack.

Shtayyeh cited "developments related to the aggression against the Gaza Strip and the escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem", which have also been torn by deadly violence during the war.

He said he had first offered Abbas the resignation last Tuesday, but was formally submitting it "in writing" on Monday.

This picture taken from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment on Khan Yunis on February 22, 2024

Shtayyeh, 66, said in brief comments that "the next stage and its challenges require new governmental and political measures that take into account the new reality in the Gaza Strip".

He called for intra-Palestinian consensus and the "extension of the Authority's rule over the entire land of Palestine".

Abbas issued a decree accepting the resignation and assigned Shtayyeh's government to continue "temporarily until a new government is formed," a statement from the presidency said.

Israel has ruled out any future political role for the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza, but has suggested that local Palestinian officials could play a role.

Abbas, 88 is widely unpopular in the West Bank and has faced mounting anger since the Gaza war began on October 7. Many criticise him for failing to more severely condemn the Israeli offensive there as well as the rising violence in the West Bank.

- 'One man show' -

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his headquarters in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on February 5, 2024

Khalil Shikaki from the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, a think tank, said Abbas had failed to protect his own people.

"Now he wants to be present for the day after, but he didn't do anything during the war," Shikaki said.

"Most Palestinians are harsher than I am. Abbas is going to have a government that is loyal to him. He is a one man show."

On the streets of Ramallah, Palestinians sounded doubtful about the government change.

Basil Farraj said the Palestinian Authority "did not achieve real results due to corruption, lack of security, and suppression of freedom and suppression of resistance."

Whether the government changes or not, "it is appointed by American and occupation decisions," another resident, Rula Abu Daho, said in a reference to Israel.

Since 2007, the Palestinian leadership has been divided between the Palestinian Authority of Abbas, which exercises limited power in the West Bank, and Hamas which rules the coastal Gaza Strip.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The retaliatory Israeli military offensive in Gaza has killed at least 29,782 people, most of them women and children, according to the territory's health ministry.

During the war, violence in the West Bank has flared to levels unseen in nearly two decades.

Palestinian media reports suggested Abbas might appoint Mohammed Mustafa, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation -- dominated by the ruling Fatah movement -- to head the new cabinet

Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the Gaza war began, according to the health ministry in Ramallah.

Palestinian media reports suggested Abbas might name Mohammed Mustafa, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation -- dominated by the ruling Fatah movement -- to head the new cabinet.

- 'New phase' -

Mustafa has previously served as deputy prime minister and as a senior adviser to Abbas on economic affairs.

International mediators are in talks for a ceasefire in Gaza, with Israel's top ally Washington also discussing how a post-war Gaza could be ruled.

Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib, a former cabinet minister, said the resignation was Abbas's way of showing he is flexible and ready for a government of technocrats "functioning in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip after the war".

"If Abbas and Hamas are able to reach an agreement, it would be a new phase in our internal political scene and a significant one," Khatib told AFP.

A masked gunman from the Al-Quds brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, takes part in the funeral procession of two Palestinian men killed in an overnight Israeli strike on Jenin in the occupied West Bank, on February 23, 2024

Shtayyeh defended his record and said his government had managed to do its work despite major challenges.

"The government was able to achieve a balance between meeting the needs of our people and providing services like infrastructure," said Shtayyeh, whose cabinet took office in 2019.

"We will continue to struggle to establish a state on the lands of Palestine," he said.