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Abbas to call for Palestinian elections 'very soon'

It could be the only way for him to keep legitimacy. Rival Hamas opposes a vote so soon.

RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday that he would call general elections "very soon," signaling he was ready for a new showdown with Hamas.

Hamas, which wrested control of Gaza from Abbas 18 months ago, contends his term as president ends Jan. 8. Abbas initially said he had another year, but polls indicated that most Palestinians disagreed.

A call for elections appears to be the only way for Abbas to retain legitimacy. However, it remains unclear whether he actually intends to hold them, or just plans to call for a vote as a tactical move, with the expectation that Hamas would refuse to go along.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said yesterday that Hamas opposed holding elections before the rivals had worked out their differences. Hamas could block elections in Gaza, and it is unclear whether Abbas would agree to hold elections only in the West Bank, since that would deepen the split between the territories.

Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said it would be a bad idea to hold elections only in the West Bank, adding that he was expressing his personal view.

Still, Abbas was moving ahead. Yesterday, after meeting with a former Russian prime minister, he said: "We will call for parliamentary and presidential elections soon, very soon, in the West Bank and Gaza."

On Monday, he met with the heads of the Palestinian Central Election Commission and was to consult with them again next week. The commission is to present possible dates for elections.

Palestinian officials said they expected Abbas to announce a date before the end of the month.

Also yesterday, the White House said President Bush would host Abbas at the White House on Friday, as Bush's government tried to keep its peace initiative alive for his successor, Barack Obama.

Press secretary Dana Perino said Bush wanted to discuss shared efforts with Abbas, "including progress in building capable Palestinian institutions, fostering economic development, and training and deploying Palestinian security forces in the West Bank."