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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Dec. 22, 2018 file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Abbas has chosen longtime adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh as his new prime minister, officials said Sunday, March 10, 2019, a step that further deepens the rift with the rival Hamas group. Ishtayeh, a British-educated economist, is a top official in Abbas' Fatah movement. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday chose a longtime adviser as his new prime minister, a step that deepens the rift with the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas militant group.

The official Wafa news agency made the announcement, saying, "President Abbas has given Mohammed Ishtayeh a mandate to form a government."

The announcement puts Ishtayeh in charge of day-to-day Palestinian affairs. The British-educated economist is a top official in Abbas' Fatah movement and a veteran of past rounds of peace talks with Israel, which he strongly supports.

Ishtayeh is also a fierce critic of Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces in 2007, leaving the Palestinians torn between rival governments. Hamas continues to rule Gaza, while Abbas' internationally recognized Palestinian Authority administers autonomous areas of the West Bank.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told The Associated Press that the Islamist militant group doesn't recognize the new Ishtayeh government, which he says will "widen the division and separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip fully, and won't serve the interests of our people."

Ishtayeh succeeds Rami Hamdallah, who had overseen a unity government formed nearly five years ago with the goal of reaching a conciliation deal with Hamas.

Those attempts collapsed a year ago when Hamdallah's motorcade was targeted by a roadside bomb in Gaza. Hamdallah announced his resignation in January, days after Abbas said he wanted a new administration with more representation of Palestine Liberation Organization factions. Hamas is not a member of the organization.

Fed up with the lack of progress, Abbas has slashed financial support for Gaza, adding to the hardship in a territory whose economy has been battered by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from arming.

Ishtayeh is now expected to appoint a new Cabinet of Fatah supporters with a heavy focus only on the West Bank. In a separate statement carried by Wafa, Ishtayeh said he's "fully aware of the challenges facing us politically, economically and financially."

The United States, traditionally the leading donor to the Palestinian government, has slashed hundreds of millions of dollars of aid since President Donald Trump took office, citing the reluctance of Palestinian leaders to enter peace talks.

The Palestinians severed ties with the U.S. after Trump recognized contested Jerusalem as Israel's capital and ordered the U.S. Embassy moved there.

The Palestinians also recently said they would no longer accept monthly tax transfers from Israel, after Israel deducted sums of money the Palestinians pay to the families of people killed or imprisoned for attacks on Israel.

Facing a cash crunch, the Palestinian Authority was unable to pay thousands of employees their full salaries last month.

"Israel is choking the economy and causing a financial crisis for the Palestinian Authority," Abbas said Sunday during a meeting with Israeli opposition politicians. "Despite this, we are maintaining our support for the two-state solution and fighting terrorism. Our money must be returned."

Information for this article was contributed by Mohammed Daraghmeh of The Associated Press and by Fadwa Hodali of Bloomberg News.

A Section on 03/11/2019

Print Headline: Abbas names ally Palestinian premier

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