GAZA CITY - Agence France-Presse
Palestinian Hamas scouts carry a scale model of the Dome of the Rock as others wave Syrian and Egyptian flags in front of the poster of late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin during a Hamas rally in Gaza city, Gaza Strip, 30 August 2012. Hamas was marking the 43rd anniversary of the attempted burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque by a Jewish settler, Denis Michael Rohan, on 21 August 1969. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
Ismail Haniya, head of the Hamas government in Gaza, 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." And he said the new cabinet was partly a reaction to the changing landscape of the Middle East in the wake of uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and other Arab countries.
"This shuffle will give us an opportunity to deal with these changes," he said.
The reshuffle was approved by Gaza-based Hamas MPs from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) or parliament, which comprises legislators from across the Palestinian territories.
The Hamas-dominated parliament came into being in 2006 after the Islamist group won a crushing electoral victory, but it has been largely largely non-functional since then.
The surprise election victory escalated long-running tensions between Hamas and the rival Fatah party 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 an April 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.
At the time, Hamas said the reshuffle proved Abbas was not committed to forming 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 Ziyad 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-Makhalalati, who will take over the health ministry, Yusef Sobhi Aghreyz at the ministry of housing and public works and Mazen Haniyeh to the justice ministry.
Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader and former spokesman, will become the minister of religious endowments, Mohammed Jawad al-Farra becomes minister of local government and Abdul Aziz al-Tirshawi takes the agriculture portfolio.
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."