- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2007

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday called for early elections that could freeze Hamas out of the political arena, thus deepening animosities with the Islamist militant group after its violent takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Abbas told the Palestine Central Council, a top decision-making body, that he wanted it to issue a declaration of early elections at an unspecified date. He said he would call for the elimination of regional balloting, which cost his Fatah party a number of seats in the 2006 vote for parliament. Rival Fatah candidates split their vote in many regions, and Hamas handily won the election.

In the new election, Palestinians will vote for parties that will divide parliament in proportion to the votes received, Mr. Abbas said. The system would likely lead to Fatah control over the government.

“We will call on the council to decide on early elections. … We want elections because a democratic choice is the right for all the people,” Mr. Abbas said. “We won’t exclude anybody from having their say in a democratic way.”

Mr. Abbas‘ aides said they expected the election by the end of the year or early 2008.

Mr. Abbas repeated his charge that Hamas carried out a coup against him in Gaza.

“Nothing can justify the crime of the coup they committed,” he said. “Even the devil cannot match their lies.”

Hamas is “committing capital crimes, bloody crimes against our people every day, every minute, every hour,” he said. “There will be no dialogue until they return Gaza to what it was before.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza said the Palestine Central Council had no authority to call elections.

“It is not legitimate to issue such a recommendation,” he said. “This council has … no mandate and no authority.”

Under current conditions, it would be impossible to have a vote in Gaza, which would risk new violence with Hamas. Many Hamas militants in the West Bank have gone into hiding, but the group has threatened to activate its militants if Mr. Abbas pushes them too hard.

“The previous election passed quietly, peacefully, smoothly without a drop of blood. I don’t expect the coming election to be quiet without confrontation,” Said Siyam, a prominent Hamas lawmaker in Gaza, told the Al Aqsa television station.

Since taking control of Gaza, the area’s Hamas rulers have been plunged into deep international isolation, while Mr. Abbas‘ West Bank government has received support from Israel and the West.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, visited the Palestinian leader yesterday to voice his support. The visit came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at bolstering Mr. Abbas. Today, members of the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — are meeting in Portugal.

French diplomats signed a deal giving $20.7 million in direct aid to the Palestinians. Mr. Abbas said that Europe has restored foreign aid to his government, but he is still waiting for the $180 million pledged by the United States.