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(photo credit: Ori Porat)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held meetings Sunday with officials from the Palestinian Central Election Commission in his first step toward holding early elections.
Abbas had announced Saturday that he was calling new presidential and legislative elections, in a dramatic challenge to Hamas.
Abbas decides to call early elections
Abbas is to set the date by presidential decree after hearing from the Election Commission on how much time it needs to prepare.
His aides had said he would hold the meeting within a week. Abbas' fast pace indicated he was determined to move ahead with the ballotting, even though Hamas has threatened to block the vote.
Earlier Sunday morning, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) said that Abbas' call for early elections was not intended to oust Hamas from power, but rather to pressure the group's members to promote steps that would lead to the establishment of a unity government.
"He left the door very open for the possibility of renewing negotiations; the announcement of early elections without a date serves as leverage to bring the sides to the negotiating table and to come to an agreement," he told Army Radio.
Tibi also expressed concern over the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and said that for Abbas' sake, Israel must not get involved in the fighting, since such a move would only weaken Fatah.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has also advocated staying out of the fighting between Fatah and Hamas, saying that Israeli intervention could cause damage and instructed Knesset members on Saturday not to make public statements about Abbas' decision.