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Abbas will not seek re-election

Mahmoud Abbas rules himself out of January's elections

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has announced that he will not seek re-election in polls in January.

In a televised speech, Mr Abbas said the impasse in efforts to resume peace negotiations with Israel had prompted his decision not to run again.

But he reiterated his belief that peace with Israel was "still possible".

Correspondents say Mr Abbas could stay in post for some time, however, as the election may be postponed because Hamas says it will not allow a vote in Gaza.

The White House meanwhile hailed Mr Abbas as a "true partner" for the US, but refused to discuss the implications for peace.

This decision does not at all amount to bargaining or political manoeuvring
Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian Authority president

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she looked forward to working with him in "any new capacity".

Mrs Clinton said she and Mr Abbas had discussed his political future during her visit to the Middle East last week.

"He reiterated his personal commitment to do whatever he can to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... I look forward to working with President Abbas in any new capacity in order to help achieve this goal," she said.

Settlements issue

Speaking in Ramallah, Mr Abbas announced that he had no intention of standing in the presidential election scheduled for 24 January in the West Bank and Gaza.

MAHMOUD ABBAS
Born in Safed in British Mandate Palestine (now northern Israel) in 1935; studied law in Egypt and gained doctorate in Moscow
A founder member, with Yasser Arafat, of Palestinian political faction Fatah
Held security role within the PLO in the early 1970s
Appointed head of the PLO's department for national and international relations in 1980
Widely regarded as an architect of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords
In January 2005, elected president of the Palestinian Authority

"I have informed brothers in [the PLO and Fatah] that I do not wish to present my candidacy in the forthcoming presidential election," he said.

"This decision does not at all amount to bargaining or political manoeuvring... It is worth noting that I shall take other steps when the time comes."

The 74-year-old leader accused the US of backtracking on its Middle East policy and refusing to persuade Israel to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

"We were optimistic when [US] President [Barack] Obama announced the need for a complete halt to settlements including natural growth," he said. "We were surprised by his [later] support for the Israeli position."

Nevertheless, Mr Abbas said Washington still had a pivotal role to play in eventually achieving peace in the region, which he was confident would happen.

"The two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security is still possible," he added.

Faltering peace

The BBC's Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, says the decision is another serious blow to the US government's unravelling Middle East policy.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

Its strategy is faltering, and without President Abbas it will come to a dead stop while would-be successors compete for power, he says.

Mr Abbas took over as head of the PLO after Yasser Arafat died in 2004, and became Palestinian Authority president a year later.

But he has struggled to make headway towards a peace deal in negotiations with Israel, amid deadlock over the issue of Israeli settlements.

He has also faced rivalry from the Hamas movement, which won legislative elections in January 2006 and ousted Fatah from Gaza.

In recent months Egypt has tried to broker a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah but its efforts have been unsuccessful so far.

Mr Abbas had said he would call elections even if no unity deal was reached.

The four-year term of the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament, is due to expire in January 2010, at which time fresh elections must be held, according to the Palestinian constitution.

Mr Abbas' presidential term expired earlier this year.



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