Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Abbas to remain Palestinian president beyond January

Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had called elections for January

The term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been indefinitely extended until new elections are held.

The decision was made at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Parliament's mandate was extended too.

The elections were due in January but have been postponed over differences between rival factions Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas, which is boycotting an election, says the extension is unconstitutional.

PLO officials say they are acting to prevent a political vacuum.

Officials are hoping that reconciliation talks between Mr Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas will eventually result in elections in June, but little progress has been made.

Mr Abbas called elections for 24 January, 2010, but said he would not stand for re-election, citing frustration with attempts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

PLO meeting, Ramallah, 15.12.09

His position as Palestinian Authority (PA) president was extended for a year in January 2009, after his four-year mandate ran out, but since then Hamas, which controls Gaza, has argued that he no longer has legitimacy.

The term of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the PA's parliament, was also due to run out in January 2010.

On Wednesday the PLO voted to extend it too, even though the legislative body has not been functioning since July 2007, as Fatah and Hamas have been unable to agree how to handle the fact that several of its Hamas members are in Israeli jails.

On Tuesday, Mr Abbas said a peace deal could be reached in six months, if Israel were completely to freeze construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Mr Abbas said he had made the suggestion in phone calls to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, but had not yet received an answer.

Israel has rejected Palestinian and American demands for a total freeze, although it has scaled back construction in the West Bank.

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