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Abbas Calls Early Elections in Challenge to Hamas


The Palestinian president has called early elections in a major challenge to the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, Hamas angrily rejected the call.

Moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called early elections, saying it is the only way to end an increasingly violent power struggle with Hamas. In a televised speech to the Palestinian people from the West Bank town of Ramallah, Mr. Abbas, who heads the Fatah faction, said the crisis is getting worse. Gun battles this week between Fatah and Hamas raised fears of a Palestinian civil war.

"The way to one authority, the way to one gun, the way to public order has to go through the road of elections," said Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat of Fatah.

Hamas reacted angrily, saying elections amount to a coup d'├ętat. Last January, Hamas won parliamentary elections by a landslide, ousting Fatah from power for the first time.

But Hamas has been unable to govern effectively in the wake of international sanctions, imposed because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel. About 165,000 government employees have not been paid their full salaries in nine months, and the economy is in a state of collapse.

Mr. Abbas tried to form a more moderate national unity government with Hamas in a bid to end Western sanctions. But months of talks ended in failure two weeks ago, sparking bloody clashes between the rival factions in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian officials say elections will probably be held in the middle of next year. Until then, Hamas and Fatah appear to be on a collision course.