Abbas Backs Early Palestinian Elections

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday endorsed the idea of early elections, deepening animosities with Hamas following the Islamic group's takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Abbas Backs Early Palestinian Elections
Abbas did not say when he might hold new elections or how he would organize a vote in Hamas-ruled Gaza. Abbas has come under criticism for taking tough measures against Hamas in the West Bank, and talk of holding a new vote might be a way of silencing his critics.

Abbas made the announcement ahead of a gathering later in the day of a top decision-making body of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO's Central Council. The PLO is an umbrella group of Palestinian groups, but Hamas is not represented.

The council, dominated by Abbas' Fatah movement, was expected to call for early elections as a way toward ending its bitter power struggle with Hamas.

"This issue will be discussed in the council and when there is a decision for early elections, it is my responsibility to issue the decree for that," Abbas said.

Abbas spoke at a joint news conference with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who voiced his support for the Palestinian leader.

"Some initiatives are going to be taken in the coming days that may lead to the dream of all of us, especially if the Palestinians start a political process," Solana said.

Hamas trounced Fatah in 2006 legislative elections, setting off more than a year of factional strife that culminated with Hamas' takeover of Gaza last month. Abbas responded by forming an emergency government based in the West Bank.

Hamas officials have refused to recognize Abbas' government and said they would oppose any attempt to call new elections. They say they have been robbed of last year's victory.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the Central Council has no authority to call new elections. "This will mean a new coup for the Palestinian democracy," he said. "The recommendation of this council is illegal."

It remains unclear how serious Abbas is about holding elections.

Under current conditions, it would be impossible to have a vote in Gaza and would risk new violence with Hamas. Many Hamas members in the West Bank have gone into hiding, but the group has threatened to activate its members if Abbas pushes them too hard.

"The previous election passed quietly, peacefully, smoothly without a drop of blood. I don't expect the coming election to be quiet without confrontation," Said Siyam, a prominent Hamas lawmaker in Gaza, told Al Aqsa television station.

Since taking control of Gaza, the area's Hamas rulers have been plunged into deep international isolation, while Abbas' West Bank government has received support from Israel and the West.

Solana's visit came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at bolstering Abbas. On Thursday, members of the Quartet of Mideast mediators—the U.S., EU, United Nations and Russia—are meeting in Portugal to discuss the Mideast.

French diplomats, meanwhile, signed a deal giving $20.7 million in direct aid to the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has also taken a series of steps to boost Abbas, including plans to release 256 Palestinian prisoners Friday as a goodwill gesture.

A group representing Israeli victims of Palestinian violence asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to delay the planned release. The Almagor group said more time is needed to review the files of the prisoners.

Israeli Cabinet ministers have approved the list of Palestinian prisoners. Most of the 256 to be freed Friday are members of Abbas' Fatah movement. None are from Hamas. Still, officials in Abbas' government have said the Israeli release is insufficient.

Emi Palmor, director of pardons in the Israeli Justice Ministry, said Wednesday's legal challenge was unlikely to delay the release. She said the courts have always deferred to the government on such matters in the past. She said none of the prisoners has been involved in deadly attacks on Israelis.

Prominent among the prisoners is Abdel Rahim Malouh, 61, second in command of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which carried out the assassination of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. Palmor said Malouh was not involved in the killing.

Malouh was arrested in 2002 and sentenced to seven years in prison, the family said. A member of the PLO Executive Committee, he is considered close to Abbas.

AP


Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Temmuz 2007, 16:12
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