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Abbas Vows to Hold Early Elections Despite Violence

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he is pressing on with plans for early elections, despite a weekend of fierce factional fighting. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, he spoke after meeting the British prime minister, who visited the West Bank in a show of support.

Mahmoud Abbas said fierce opposition from the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas will not stop early elections.

The Palestinian president, who heads the Fatah faction, said elections are the only way to end international sanctions imposed on Hamas because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel. He said the economic and security situation has brought suffering on the Palestinian people since Hamas took power nine months ago.

Mr. Abbas was speaking at a joint news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who praised his call for early elections.

"We stand ready now, the international community, to do everything we can to give you the strength and purpose to be able to deliver what you wish for your people," said Mr. Blair.

But Hamas is furious over the planned elections, describing it as a coup d'état. Hamas was elected by a landslide in January and says it intends to remain in power.

Fierce gun battles between Hamas and Fatah erupted during the weekend, after Mr. Abbas announced that elections would be held three years ahead of schedule. Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad says it is a dangerous situation.

"If we continue like this, we will have civil war," Hamad told Israel Radio.

In a bid to avert that, Hamas and Fatah agreed to a cease-fire. There have been sporadic gun battles but the situation in Gaza is much calmer than it was.