(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said he is close to calling new legislative elections, a move designed to freeze the Hamas militant group from power.
Abbas said last week that he wants to hold a new vote following Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which trounced Abbas' Fatah party in 2006 legislative elections, has said it will boycott a new vote.
In a speech to a visiting US delegation Wednesday, Abbas said he would soon order the election.
"The time has come for us to issue the required decrees for early elections," he said. Abbas did not say when he would issue the decree or give a date for the vote.
Abbas aides have said they expect elections by early 2008.
Calling the vote is sure to deepen animosities with Hamas. Abbas said Gaza would be included in the elections, underlining his claim to be the legitimate authority of all Palestinians.
"We will not exclude Gaza. Gaza is part of the Palestinian land," he said. However, it remains unclear how he could carry out a vote in the Hamas-controlled territory, home to about one-third of the Palestinian population.
Since the Gaza takeover, Abbas has formed a pro-Western emergency government based in the West Bank, while Gaza has slid into deep international isolation.
Palestinian officials have said Abbas wants to hold elections before Israel releases dozens of Hamas legislators it has arrested, pre-empting the possibility that they could return to parliament and vote the caretaker government from power. Israel is unlikely to release the legislators until Hamas frees an Israeli soldier captured last summer.
Abbas said outside mediators have offered to broker reconciliation talks with Hamas. He said there would be no dialogue with the Islamic group until it reverses its Gaza takeover.
"I will not listen to anyone," he said.