Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Sunday, 23 November 2008

Abbas threatens early elections

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Salfit, the West Bank, on 22 November
Mr Abbas's authority is largely confined to the West Bank

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will call elections if he fails to make progress in reconciliation talks with his Hamas rivals this year.

He said he might issue a decree early in 2009 for presidential and parliamentary polls, but gave no date. His term in office ends on 9 January.

But analysts say he is unlikely to call the polls, given the strength of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Hamas quickly rejected the proposal, saying the idea was "unconstitutional".

Mr Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority, had previously indicated he intended to remain in office a further year - the term of the Hamas-led parliament.

"If the dialogue with Hamas fails, early next year I will call for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections," he told members of his Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

'True intention'

But Hamas - which has repeatedly stressed its opposition to any extension of Mr Abbas' term in office - quickly asserted its opposition to the plan for early polls.

"This call by the president reflects his real intention, that he wants the national conciliation talks only to extend his term," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in Gaza, which the Islamist organisation controls.

"So if he cannot achieve this through talks, he wants to get it through pressure by calling for elections."

Hamas also rejects calls for early parliamentary elections.

The movement won a clear majority in the Palestinian parliament in the election of January 2006.

It seized control of the Gaza Strip last year and has clashed with Mr Abbas's supporters there and in the West Bank.

Mr Abbas was elected for a four-year term in January 2005.

Israel's military establishment also appears lukewarm on the value of new Palestinian elections.

A report by the country's National Security Council on Sunday said it could be in Israel's interests to "prevent" early polls to avoid the prospect of further gains for Hamas, Israeli media said.

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