Abbas's Fatah backs Egypt election delay proposal

Abbas's Fatah backs Egypt election delay proposal

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction Monday said it had accepted an Egyptian proposal to end a rift with Islamist Hamas and would delay presidential and parliamentary elections due in January, Reuters reported.

Egypt is trying to reconcile rival factions Fatah and Islamist Hamas and last week proposed holding elections during the first half of 2010 to allow more time to work out a power-sharing deal between the two rival groups.

Fatah's acceptance of the delay now puts the onus on Hamas which won the 2006 parliamentary election and a year later took over the Gaza Strip after routing forces loyal to Abbas in a brief civil war.

Fatah controls the West Bank and Hamas rules Gaza, territory that Palestinians want for a future state culminating from peace negotiations with Israel.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are slated for January 25 but it remains unclear how they could take place with the Palestinian population split in two territories run by rival administrations that do not recognize one another.

"We have decided to accept the Egyptian proposal, including holding the elections during the first half of next year and no later than this date," said Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah's Central Committee, the group's executive body.

Fatah made the announcement early Monday after its Central Committee convened a late-night meeting Sunday chaired by Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Fatah officials said that Hamas had told Fatah during past round of talks that it prefers an extended delay to elections.

Nabil Shaath, another Fatah official, said that the group did not mind a delay but "there should be a specific date and not to leave the matter open as if we do then it could be postponed again."

Hamas has said it would state its position regarding the Egyptian proposal after the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr due next week.

The Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee had already submitted the response to Egypt, Aahmad Majdalani, a PLO member, told Reuters.

Abbas, who has Western backing, had said he would hold the elections on time with or without a deal with his Hamas rivals. Hamas has threatened to block the ballot if Abbas proceeds with the plan.

Egypt's mediation efforts for a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah have so far shown no sign of progress in finding a formula for power-sharing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian proposal stipulates that most Hamas political activists jailed by Fatah-led forces in the West Bank and Fatah men held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip would be released after a deal is reached. Hamas wants its men freed before an accord.

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