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Hamas lashes out at Abbas. Palestinian elections in doubt

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' call for Palestinian elections in January was roundly rejected by Hamas. Abbas says he'll quit over the lack of an Israeli settlement freeze.

By Staff writer / October 28, 2009

The odds that the rift between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and the Islamist group Hamas that controls the Gaza strip could be healed any time soon lengthened on Wednesday, with Hamas warning that anyone who heeds Abbas' call to participate in a January election will be held "accountable."

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The Hamas run Interior Ministry in the Gaza strip said in a statement that Abbas did not have the legal authority to call fresh elections and made it clear that the group -- which won Palestinian elections in January 2006 and then took full control of the Gaza coastal enclave after a brief civil war in 2007 -- view the president's unilateral call as a provocation, not a step on the road to reconciliation.

That war, which saw most senior members of Fatah expelled from Gaza, led to the de facto creation of two Palestinian governments: That of Mr. Abbas, which is based in the West Bank and is viewed more favorably by Israel and the US, since it has formally recognized Israel's right to exist, and that of Hamas in Gaza, which has not.

Though neither the US nor Israel deal directly with Hamas, the Obama Administration has been eager for some kind of reunification since making steps toward peace are gravely complicated by the fact that a sizable chunk of the territory that is hoped to one day form an independent Palestine is in Hamas' hands.

Egypt, one of two Arab states that has a peace agreement with Israel and full diplomatic relations, has been trying to bring the secular-leaning Fatah and Hamas together for nearly two years. In talks in Cairo earlier this month, Egypt proposed an arrangement in which Hamas would give up its full military control of the Gaza strip to joint patrols with Fatah gunmen, which would also regulate the lucrative smuggling tunnels out of the isolated enclave.

Hamas leaders, who have consistently described the 2007 war with Fatah as a counter-coup against their rival's efforts to prevent them from governing after they'd won a free and fair election, said the terms were unacceptable. President Abbas' response was to call for elections in January, which his aides hope will put pressure on the Islamist movement to reconcile. So far, it appears that both sides are digging in. A senior Hamas legislator called over the weekend for Abbas to be tried for "usurping" authority.

Abbas and his advisors have been hoping that a new election would have a far different outcome than the 2006 vote, which was a stunning victory for Hamas. In the years since, as Gaza's economy has collapsed amid an Israeli-blockade on commerce and taken further hits from Israel's assault on the enclave last December and January, polling shows that Hamas popular support has declined.

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