Blair and Abbas.
(photo credit: AHMAD GHARABLI)
British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday praised Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' call for new Palestinian elections and said the next few weeks would be a critical time for the Middle East.
Abbas on Saturday called for new Palestinian elections to end the yearlong deadlock between his moderate Fatah Party and Hamas, which controls parliament and the Cabinet. Hamas dismissed the call for new elections as illegal and said it was simply a negotiating tactic to try to force them into a national unity government.
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At a news conference with Blair in Ramallah, Abbas said he was determined to push ahead with his plan for new elections.
"We are going to hold early elections, parliamentary and presidential. There is nothing we can see that can stop us," he said.
"We are a democratic people, so let's go to the people," he said. "We want to examine the will of the people. Do they still trust those they have chosen?"
Abbas also warned that the situation in the Palestinian territories was "dangerous" after a week of internal violence between warring militants from Hamas and Fatah. Militants from the two groups agreed to a cease-fire late Sunday, but sporadic violence continued in Gaza on Monday.
Blair called on the international community to support Abbas and his call for the new poll. He also called for new efforts to alleviate the pain caused by international economic sanctions that were placed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas' electoral victory.
"Your people are suffering," he told Abbas. "We don't want anything to stand in the way of helping the Palestinian people."
Blair added that he would do what he can in coming weeks to deliver support to Abbas and the Palestinians. "I will not rest for a single moment," he said.
Abbas called for intensified international efforts to reach a permanent solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict, adding that he was ready to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"We have to meet. We need each other, and we have to deal with our problems," he said.