RAMALLAH (Palestinian Territories) - The Palestinian unity government resigned yesterday in a deepening rift with Gaza as the blockaded territory's de facto rulers Hamas held separate, indirect talks with Israel.
An aide to President Mahmud Abbas said Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah "handed his resignation to Abbas and Abbas ordered him to form a new government".
Discussions to form a new government would include consultations with the various Palestinian factions, including Hamas, aide Nimr Hammad said.
The government of technocrats was formed last year to replace rival administrations in Gaza and the West Bank.
"The government will continue to function until we have a new one," a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official said before the official resignation.
"I think what's coming now is the formation of a government with politicians, not a government of technocrats."
Officials said the move had been under discussion for several months because of the Cabinet's inability to operate in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip.
But Hamas rejected any unilateral dissolution of the unity government and said it had not been consulted.
"Hamas rejects any one-sided change in the government without the agreement of all parties," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
"No one told us anything about any decision to change."
Senior Hamas official Ziad al-Zaza, however, struck a more conciliatory note, calling on Mr Abbas "to form a unity government with all national and Islamic factions to face Israeli occupation".
Mr Riyad al-Maliki, foreign minister in the outgoing government, said "the prime minister always wanted to incorporate new ministers".
He said: "At the end of the day, it's not going to change our position when it comes to peace and our commitment towards peace with Israel.
"Rest assured that whatever change will take place is not going to hinder our commitments regionally or internationally."
The move comes at a critical time, with Hamas sources saying it is holding separate, indirect talks with Israel on ways to firm up an informal ceasefire agreement that took hold last August, ending a 50-day war in Gaza.
It was not clear whether Mr Abbas' move to dissolve the government was linked to those talks, but the PLO official said he believed that they played a role.
"If you end up having a different kind of status for Gaza, then basically the idea of a Palestinian state completely disappears," the official said.
A Hamas source said senior members of the Islamist movement had met in Doha over the weekend for talks with Qatari officials.
They focused on key issues for Hamas such as ending Israel's blockade, now entering its ninth year, and the establishment of a sea passage between Gaza and the outside world, the source said.