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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August, 2005, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Palestinian poll set for January
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas
Abbas has pledged to end corruption in the PA
Palestinians will hold general elections in January, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech to the parliament in Gaza.

The vote had been set for July, but it was postponed because of a dispute over electoral reform, officials said.

Mr Abbas did not give an exact date for the poll, in a speech which also urged an end to anti-Israeli violence.

Militant group Hamas has accused him of delaying elections in order to buy time to revive his Fatah party.

Fatah has lost public support over its alleged corruption and what many Palestinians see as its mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

It is a shared responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and all our people to maintain security in a civilised manner so that we can show the world we deserve our freedom and independence
Mahmoud Abbas
"I will issue a decree that parliamentary elections will be held next January. We will pick a day but it will be in January," Mr Abbas said.

Fatah's faltering grip and internal rivalry within it has raised concern about turmoil after Israel's planned withdrawal of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip which is due to begin next week.

About 200 masked, armed militants from the Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades rallied outside parliament during the speech, demanding an end to arrests of its members by Mr Abbas' security forces.

The last Palestinian parliamentary election in 1996 was won by Fatah, but Hamas, which enjoys roughly equal support according to analysts, boycotted the poll. It says it will field candidates this time.

Looting warning

Mr Abbas began his speech by calling on militants to allow Israeli settlers and troops to withdraw without violence from the Palestinian side.

"This is a shared responsibility, not just of the Palestinian Authority but the responsibility of all our people to maintain security in a civilised manner so that we can show the world we deserve our freedom and independence," he said.

He added that "when the occupation is lifted", there should be no more weapons seen on Gaza's streets.

The Palestinian leader also warned against looting abandoned Israeli settlements and military bases, saying the land is for all the Palestinian people.

He also urged Palestinians to avoid excessive celebrations of the pullout, while other Palestinian land remains under Israeli occupation.

BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston says that Mr Abbas's appeal for calm was directed mainly at militant groups like Hamas.

They have attacked the settlements with their homemade missiles many, many times, but if they were to do that during disengagement, the Israeli response could well be very harsh.

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