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(photo credit: AP)
The United States tentatively endorsed on Monday a call for early elections by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a gamble he took to try to remove the Hamas government elected less than a year ago.
At the same time, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Bush administration is trying to sell its plan to Congress to shore up security forces loyal to Abbas with money for salaries, training and logistical support.
McCormack also said it was unclear whether Abbas acted constitutionally in calling new presidential and parliamentary balloting as a way out of a violent confrontation between his Fatah movement and Hamas. He said Monday the vote could be within a few months, years ahead of schedule.
"My understanding of this is that - within the basic law - that this is not prohibited," McCormack said. "It's not specifically accounted for, but it's not prohibited."
Abbas' election suggestion on Saturday prompted demonstrations by thousands of Hamas supporters in the Gaza Strip and clashes between the two political camps that continued through Monday in a slew of kidnappings and violence.
"President Abbas is doing what he can, taking the steps that he thinks are prudent, to try to resolve this situation," McCormack said at his daily news briefing.
"He understands that the will of the Palestinian people is that they don't want to see the current situation continue. So he is taking steps that he believes are within his authority to try to resolve the political impasse."
Hamas overwhelmingly won democratic elections last January. The United States and other countries immediately severed all but humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, based on the militants' continued refusal to disavow terror, recognize Israel and accept Fatah agreements with the Jewish state under Yasser Arafat and Abbas.
"We support President Abbas in trying to work through this current impasse, and we certainly hope that the steps that he is taking can lead to a reduction in the violence," McCormack said Monday.
"It's sad to see some of the innocent lives being lost as a collateral effect of the political impasse that you see right now. So hopefully some of the steps that he is taking can lead to a breaking of that impasse and hopefully a calming of the situation in the Gaza," he said.