Palestinian Leader Calls

December 16, 2006 12:46pm CST
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Saturday for new elections, in a bold challenge to ruling Hamas militants that threatens to touch off a civil war. The Hamas government, which has drawn crushing international sanctions over its militantly anti-Israel stand, accused Abbas of carrying out a "coup" against the Palestinian people, who voted the Islamic group into power just 11 months ago. Hamas leaders, including Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar, called on Abbas to resign. The decision puts the Palestinian political situation into limbo, paralyzing attempts to build on recent efforts toward peace with Israel. Abbas' dramatic announcement - made after he despaired of persuading Hamas to form a more moderate coalition government with his own Fatah Party - further hardened the lines between the two political rivals, at a time when factional fighting threatens to escalate. Later Saturday, in Gaza, thousands of Hamas supporters marched in protest and three Palestinians were wounded in clashes between the two political camps. Abbas, elected separately in 2005, is taking a big political gamble by trying to end his power struggle with Hamas through new balloting. His call for early elections could intensify factional violence. The balloting could also be deprived of legitimacy if boycotted by Hamas. Also, if Abbas does not run - he has said he would not seek another term - Palestinian moderates would not have a strong candidate and could easily lose the presidential vote. His Fatah Party remains in disarray, and might lose to Hamas again in parliamentary elections. Aides said the vote would be held as early as March, and that a date would be set within a week.
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