PLO gives Abbas go-ahead for early elections

July 21, 2007 - 0:0

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) -- The central council of the PLO on Thursday gave the go-ahead to president Mahmud Abbas to organize early elections after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, an official said.

""The central council meeting in Ramallah gave a mandate to the president to organize early presidential and parliamentary elections and gave him the right to fix the date of these polls,"" central council member Hazam al-Ahmad told AFP. The central council of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has been meeting in Ramallah since Wednesday to mull action after Hamas overran forces loyal to Abbas in the Gaza Strip on June 15. The PLO is considered as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians in the world over and its central committee is empowered with taking important decisions, like the creation of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. Hamas -- which is not a member of the organization -- has already warned it would torpedo any early elections. ""Early elections are an attempt to bypass the will of the Palestinian people and this attempt is bound to failure. It will fail. We, the Palestinian people, will scupper it,"" said hardline Hamas leader, Mahmud Zahar. ""The Palestinian people, of which Hamas is a part, will not accept early elections designed to satisfy America,"" Zahar, onetime foreign minister in a Hamas cabinet, told a press conference Thursday in Gaza City. ""We are 100 percent sure that these elections will be rigged,"" he added, accusing Abbas of conspiring with Israel. ""Abbas has lost all credibility as president of the Palestinian people,"" said Zahar. Abbas has said he planned for the elections to take place on party lists only, a move that would make it easier to organize the poll in Gaza, which is now ruled by the Islamists. During the last parliamentary election in January 2006, swept by Hamas, half of the 132 lawmakers in the Palestinian Legislative Council were elected according to party lists and half through single constituency votes. The routing of pro-Abbas forces in Gaza has effectively split the Palestinians into two separate entities, with the radical Islamists running Gaza and the moderate president in control of his stronghold in the West Bank. Abbas responded by sacking a three-month-old unity government led by Hamas and appointed a new cabinet headed by Salam Fayyad, an economist widely respected in the West. The rival Fatah and Hamas factions have been at odds ever since Hamas's shock routing of long-dominant Fatah in the January 2006 poll, with control over security services among the main bones of contention. The simmering tensions boiled over into major armed clashes for the first time in mid-December, after Abbas called for early elections to resolve the months-long standoff over forming a unity government. Under Saudi mediation, the two sides signed a coalition agreement in February and the new cabinet was sworn in a month later. But continuing tensions culminated in a new round of violence in early June, which killed more than 100 people in a week and ended with Hamas controlling Gaza