CAIRO, Egypt – The Palestinian president said Tuesday he will set Jan. 24 as the date for presidential and legislative elections, despite objections from his rivals in the Hamas militant group.
Mahmoud Abbas told journalists in Cairo he will set the date in a presidential decree Sunday.
Hamas, which wants the voting delayed, dismissed Abbas’ announcement as an attempt to pressure the group into an agreement to end a bitter two-year division between the two sides that has interfered with peace talks with Israel and hampered reconstruction of war damage in Gaza.
The months of talks mediated by Egypt were aimed at clearing the way for a new election to end the power struggle. The talks were moving toward a compromise election date of June 28, and Abbas said Tuesday that he is still open to a delay if a deal is reached.
Hamas balked at the deal days before it was to be signed, criticizing Abbas for his initial decision to withhold support for a U.N. report accusing Israel of war crimes in last winter’s war in Gaza. The report also accused Palestinian militants of war crimes in the conflict, which killed some 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, and 13 Israelis.
Abbas later gave his backing to the report, allowing it to be forwarded to the Security Council.
Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement have been deeply divided since the militant group, which won the 2005 legislative election, expelled security forces loyal to Abbas from the Gaza Strip in a bloody conflict in June 2007. That left Abbas in control of a rival, Western-backed government in the West Bank.
It is unclear how Abbas can hold the elections in Hamas-ruled Gaza if the group has not agreed to the date.
“Mahmoud Abbas cannot hold elections only in the West Bank,” said Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas’ Syrian-based deputy political leader. “Everything he says on this subject is to put pressure on Hamas.”
Salah Bardawil, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said Abbas’ “declaration will blow away in the wind.”