PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

Mahmoud Abbas calls January 24 elections

The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas (pictured), has called for presidential and legislative elections to be held on January 24 after rival factions failed to reach a unity deal in Egyptian-brokered talks.

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AFP - Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday that presidential and legislative elections will be held on January 24 in the Palestinian territories including the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, his office said in a statement.

Abbas "invited the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to take part in free and direct presidential and legislative elections on Sunday January 24, 2010" the statement said.

Abbas, whose presidential term expired in early 2009, had said on Tuesday he would issue a decree calling the elections, in a move apparently meant to press Islamist Hamas into signing a much-delayed unity deal with his Fatah faction.

In the last parliamentary elections in January 2006, Hamas won an upset victory over the previously dominant Fatah.

Egypt has been struggling to broker a reconciliation agreement between the two main Palestinian factions for months, and this month proposed an agreement that would see new elections held in June next year.

Fatah has signed the agreement while Hamas has repeatedly postponed its official response, saying that it needs more time to mull the deal.

The bitter divisions between Fatah and Hamas go back to the start of limited Palestinian self-rule in the 1990s, when Fatah strongmen cracked down on the Islamist militant group.

Their divisions boiled over in June 2007 when Hamas drove Abbas's loyalists from Gaza in a week of bloody clashes, seizing control of the impoverished and densely populated territory.
  

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