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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 October 2005, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK
Abbas rejects cabinet reshuffle
President Mahmoud Abbas arrives in Ramallah on Tuesday
President Abbas has just returned from meeting world leaders
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told parliament he is determined to hold elections in January, and will not form a new government before then.

Palestinian MPs had requested earlier this month that the president confirm the poll's date and reshuffle Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei's cabinet.

They were concerned by the continuing violence and disorder in the Palestinian Territories.

The first legislative elections in a decade are scheduled for the new year.

President Abbas, who returned on Tuesday from a tour to Jordan, Egypt, France, Spain and the United States, sought to reassure the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

"The election will be held on 25 January, and nothing will delay it, except for an act of God," Mr Abbas told MPs in Ramallah.

The PLC had voted on 3 October for Mr Abbas to form a new, or reshuffled, government within a fortnight.

It wants a new government to deal with the security problems in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip before January's poll.

"You had taken a decision to reshuffle the government. Maybe you forgot that we are about to enter the election?" the president said.

"My opinion is that we should continue with this government and then, after the elections, we will start with a totally new page."

It is possible that Mr Abbas' decision may lead to a vote of no-confidence in his government.

'Obligations not met'

His speech comes shortly after a Palestinian militant group said it will not support a truce with Israel if elections are postponed.

Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday that his group had agreed to the truce on three conditions.

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Mahmoud al-Zahar
Zahar is a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip

"Two were the release of prisoners and the cessation of Israeli acts, such as the invasion of Palestinian cities, and one reason that depended on the Palestinian Authority - the holding of elections and implementation of reforms," he said.

"All three obligations were not met. We expect answers from the leaders of this dialogue. We gave the ceasefire nine months, and what has been achieved? One big zero."

Mr Abbas brokered a ceasefire with Hamas and other Palestinian groups in February in exchange for letting them participate in the poll.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in September that his government would hinder voting in the West Bank if Hamas candidates stood in the election, but recently withdrew the threat.

Regardless of whether it can participate or not, Mr Zahar believes that Hamas will only grow stronger.

"The greater goal is not elections. The narrow interest of Hamas is for there to be no elections at all because the Palestinian Authority (PA) cannot manage anything and our popularity as a movement is rising all the time," he said.

Mr Abbas insisted on Tuesday that Hamas would participate in the upcoming elections, and stressed that the PA was keen on its participation.

He also said that he would not allow anyone to interfere in internal Palestinian affairs.


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