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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Palestinians announce poll date
Israeli bulldozer batters at Hebron compound
Israel is projecting its power across the West Bank
The Palestinian Authority has announced that presidential and legislative elections will be held next January.

Saeb Erekat, an aide to Yasser Arafat, told a news conference in Jericho that the Palestinian leader had given the order for the ballots to be held between 10 and 20 January.

Yasser Arafat
The US wants to see Arafat removed
A report by one of Mr Arafat's officials that the veteran leader would stand for election again himself was quickly dismissed as speculation by a colleague.

Israel has continued its security operation in the West Bank, maintaining a siege of a Palestinian security facility in Hebron for the second day running.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke in Jericho says all the indications are that Mr Arafat will be re-elected if he stands as there are no obvious credible challengers.

Arafat candidature

However, it remains unclear whether Mr Arafat will put his name forward.

An earlier report by Planning Minister Nabil Shaath that he had been informed by Mr Arafat personally that he would stand again was quicly discounted as premature by one of his colleagues - Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo.

"This is absurd, absurd - talking about swimming before you have a pool or water," said an angry Mr Rabbo.

If Mr Arafat does win a new mandate, our correspondent adds, this will be a major test for America's new Middle East policy.

Palestinian choice

At his news conference, Mr Erekat also detailed the imminent reform of Palestinian ministries, the judiciary and security structures.


The Palestinians will not wait for their leaders and presidents to be parachuted from Washington, or elsewhere

Saeb Erekat
He denied there was any link between US President George W Bush's speech, which called for Mr Arafat's replacement, and the election announcement.

"The Palestinians will not wait for their leaders and presidents to be parachuted from Washington, or elsewhere," he insisted.

"Palestinian people are the only people who will determine who will lead them."

Mr Erekat said Mr Arafat was unable to attend the Jericho news conference because his compound in Ramallah was still surrounded by Israeli tanks and troops.

Allies oppose Bush

Mr Bush will attempt to persuade other world leaders to back his Middle East policy at the two-day Group of Eight (G8) summit in Calgary, Canada.

He has faced a chorus of disapproval from allies since he called for a new Palestinian leadership.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, for one, has questioned the wisdom of holding elections in the Palestinian territories at the current time.

George W Bush
Bush: "What Palestinians need is leadership"
"You could find yourself in a situation that the radicals are the ones who get elected," he argued.

The BBC's Jon Leyne says that other G8 leaders would like to see the US put more pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Mr Bush has defended Israel's latest incursions into the West Bank, saying it is acting in self-defense.

Hebron siege

Israeli radio says 20 wanted militants are inside the Hebron facility, along with 130 other Palestinians.

Troops, the radio says, are preparing to storm the building which has been under fire from tanks and has had its entrance demolished by an army bulldozer.

Four Palestinian policemen were killed when Israeli troops first moved in on Tuesday.

With the exception of Jericho, Israel now controls all the main towns in the West Bank as a result of operations launched after suicide attacks on Jerusalem killed 26 Israelis.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"These elections will be held next January"
Palestinian representative in US Hasan Abdel Rahman
"It's not enough to call for new elections"
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
"He has to reform the Palestinian authority"

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26 Jun 02 | Middle East
26 Jun 02 | Americas
26 Jun 02 | Media reports
26 Jun 02 | Middle East
26 Jun 02 | Middle East
26 Jun 02 | Middle East
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