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Palestinian President Threatens Early Elections in Challenge to Hamas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to call early elections to end an impasse with the ruling Islamic militant group, Hamas. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, rival Palestinian factions appear to be on a collision course.

Mahmoud Abbas told senior members of his Fatah party that early elections are the only way to resolve the deepening political crisis with the Hamas-led Palestinian government. The announcement followed the collapse of months of talks on forming a more moderate national unity government, in which Fatah and Hamas would share power.

The aim was to present a government more acceptable to the West, which has imposed crippling sanctions on Hamas. But Hamas rejected demands by Mr. Abbas and the international community to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

A senior Fatah official, Nabil Shaath, said Hamas is not acting in the interests of the Palestinian people, who are bearing the brunt of sanctions.

"This serves nobody and serves nothing and can increase the hunger, increase the starvation, increases the lawlessness that has characterized our government in the last few months," said Shaath.

Hamas said Mr. Abbas does not have the legal authority to call elections. It accused him of trying to topple the elected government, and warned that the situation could lead to more violence between the two factions.

"They try actually putting us under pressure. They are trying to undermine the Palestinian cause," noted Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef.

The political crisis has raised tension on the streets. On Saturday, hundreds of Palestinian police loyal to Fatah stormed the Gaza parliament building, in protest over unpaid salaries. Repeated clashes during the past several months have raised fears of a Palestinian civil war.

With that in mind, President Abbas said his decision on calling elections is not final. Officials say he is leaving the door open for further talks with Hamas on a compromise.