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New Palestinian prime minister offers resignation

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (n
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah speaks during a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (n

By Noah Browning

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has offered his resignation to President Mahmoud Abbas just two weeks after taking office, an official in his press office told Reuters on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear whether Abbas would accept the resignation by Hamdallah, an academic and political independent whose cabinet convened for the first time last week.

The official told Reuters Hamdallah made the abrupt, unexpected move because of a "dispute over his powers".

A note on Hamdallah's Facebook page said his decision came after "outside interferences in his powers and duties".

His cabinet consists overwhelmingly of members of the Fatah faction led by Abbas and political commentators had immediately questioned how much leeway he would have to maneuver.

Hamdallah's predecessor, American-educated economist Salam Fayyad, resigned in April after six years in power defined by tough economic challenges and rivalries with Fatah politicians eager to control the levers of power.

Abbas chose Hamdallah while considering that Western countries who help keep the struggling West Bank government afloat with aid money were keen to see clean hands at the helm.

Corruption allegations have dogged Fatah and Palestinian government officials for years, and a successor who would meet donors' expectations would be difficult to find.

AWKWARD TIMING

The timing is especially awkward, coming a week before Abbas is set to meet United States Secretary of State John Kerry as part of an American bid to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Foreign dignitaries had been streaming into Ramallah, the Palestinians' de facto capital in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to meet the newly-minted prime minister and to back the peace drive.

In a meeting on Wednesday, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Hamdallah: "It has been my privilege to work with your predecessor and I am very much looking forward to working with you and as I said, I wish you every success."

Since a brief civil war in 2007 between the Western-backed secular Fatah party and the Islamist group Hamas, Palestinians have had no functioning parliament or national elections.

Abbas exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank while Hamas, which won 2006 legislative polls, has its own administration and prime minister in the Gaza Strip.

Attempts to cement a unity pact between the two parties have failed to take hold and ordinary Palestinians, enduring mounting living costs and unemployment, have grown disenchanted with bickering politicians.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement: "Hamdallah's resignation indicates that unilateral steps remain weak, are useless and do not resolve the internal Palestinian problem ... The solution is not in having many governments. It is in the implementing the reconciliation agreement."

(Additional reporting by Hamoudeh Hassan, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Andrew Roche)

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