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PLO 'coalition crisis'
Has the Hamas-Fatah Unity Government Expired?

Hamas says six-month period of government is over - Fatah says there was never a deadline, and wants answers on Fatah bombings in Gaza.

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Ari Yashar,

Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmed, Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh
Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmed, Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh
Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

Despite the fact that the Hamas-Fatah unity government held its first cabinet meeting in Gaza in October and declared the "division is over," the two rival groups appear firmly divided over whether that government has expired or not.

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said Sunday that the six-month mandate of the unity government agreed on in April - an agreement that torpedoed peace talks with Israel - and established in June had ended.

Abu Zuhri said "national dialogue and consensus" should decide whether to break apart the government or change its members, adding Hamas "isn't interested in incitement, but rather seeks to maintain national unity."

However, a senior Fatah official told the Palestinian Arab Ma'an News Agency on Sunday that the unity government had not been set up with a six month deadline.

The official, Faisal Abu Shahla, acknowledged that elections were to be held "within at least six months" from the formation of the government, along with several other missions, but that no agreement had been made whereby the government's term would end if those tasks were not completed.

"If the Hamas movement has retracted the reconciliation agreement and the termination of rivalry, that is a different case," Abu Shahla said, without elaborating on his ominous statement.

Apparently a key factor to be resolved before the Hamas and Fatah iron out the issue is the bomb attacks on homes of Fatah leaders last month in Gaza, with around ten explosions coming just days ahead of a Fatah rally in memorial of former Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat that was cancelled after Hamas said it couldn't promise security.

Hamas denied responsibility for the attacks, although its statement that it couldn't guarantee security at the memorial in its own stronghold of Gaza was seen by many as an indirect admission of responsibility.

Hamas sweepingly won Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections in 2006 before violently ousting Fatah from Gaza in 2007 and taking power.

The most recent reconciliation attempt has been rocked by tensions, most notably Hamas's attempt to stage a violent coup in Judea and Samaria against the PA.

The US has shown a supportive stance on the unity government, claiming Hamas is not represented in it to justify that stance - despite the fact that one of the unity government ministers was previously the education minister in Hamas's Gaza government.

Further showing Hamas's presence in the unity government, during the government's first cabinet meeting in October held in Gaza, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said "the division in the Palestinian people has ended. We have one government and one region."