GAZA (AFP) - The head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, announced a cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, appointing seven new ministers including a new finance minister. Haniya said the reshuffle was “normal procedure after nearly six years of work by some ministers and in order to achieve specific goals for the current period.” The reshuffle was approved by a meeting of members of the Palestinian parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council. But the meeting included only Hamas members of the government, which has been largely non-functional since the group won an overwhelming victory in 2006 elections, sparking a domestic Palestinian political crisis.
The surprise election victory escalated long-running tensions between Hamas and rival party Fatah, which spilled over into fighting in the summer of 2007.
The violence left the West Bank and Gaza divided, with Fatah governing the West Bank and Hamas the Gaza Strip.
Haniya said he had postponed carrying out the cabinet reshuffle several times to allow time for a reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas to succeed.
The two sides have been trying to implement the terms of a May 2011 reconciliation deal for months now, but appear no closer to achieving either the consensus interim government or the legislative and presidential elections called for by the agreement.
The West Bank government of president Mahmud Abbas underwent a shake-up in May, bringing in seven new ministers and drawing fierce criticism from Hamas.
The group said then that the reshuffle proved Abbas was not committed to the formation of a national unity government.
Haniya said he remained ready “to take the necessary measures to agree on a unity coalition government if the appropriate conditions arise.”
Under the reshuffle, one-time Hamas economy minister Ziad al-Zaza will become the new finance minister, as well as taking on the role of deputy prime minister with wide-ranging powers.
Other ministers named include Mufiz al-Makhalalaty, who will take over the health ministry, Yusef Sobhy Aghreyz at the ministry of housing and public works and Mazen Haniya to the justice ministry.
Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader and former spokesman, will become minister of religious endowments, Mohamed Jawad al-Farra becomes minister of local government and Abdul Aziz al-Tirshawi will be the new agriculture minister.
Haniya said the new government’s priorities would be “ending the siege and easing the problems of citizens, especially with regard to electricity and water.”