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In a draft resolution Thursday, the PLO Central Council endorsed Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's call for early presidential and legislative elections.
A resolution put together by the council's drafting committee asked Abbas to hold new elections, said the head of the committee, Saleh Rafat. The resolution, to be represented to the Fatah-dominated council later Thursday, was likely to the adopted.
The draft resolution also asked Hamas to reverse the Gaza takeover, and leave the positions of the Abbas-allied security forces it had stormed in five days of bloody battle.
On Wednesday Abbas announced that he was working toward holding the early elections and said there would be no dialogue with Hamas until the Islamist movement ended its violent "coup" in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to reporters in Ramallah after meeting with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Abbas said the PLO central council was expected to endorse the idea during its meeting over the next 24 hours. Abbas did not say when the elections would be held, but some PA officials in Ramallah said the vote could be held before the end of the year.
Abbas's announcement came amid growing tensions between Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank. On Wednesday, PA policemen used force to disperse demonstrators in Nablus who were protesting against the arrest of Hamas supporters and activists in the city by Abbas's security forces.
"When the PLO central council takes a decision regarding early elections, I will have the authority to issue a decree calling for holding new elections," Abbas said.
Even if Abbas calls early elections, it's unlikely that the vote will also be held in the Gaza Strip. Hamas officials have made it clear that they won't accept early elections under the current circumstances.
Hamas is planning to convene the Palestinian Legislative Council next Sunday for a vote of confidence on the government of Salaam Fayad. Hamas legislators said they would support a no-confidence motion against Fayad's "unconstitutional" government.
The decision to convene the parliament is seen as a major challenge to Abbas's authority and is likely to deepen divisions between Fatah and Hamas.
Abbas also hailed US President George W. Bush's call for an international meeting on the Arab-Israeli conflict late this year, saying the Palestinians had always supported the idea of an international peace parley on the Middle East.
"This conference will help a lot in boosting the peace process," Abbas added. "Whenever the international community meets, this leads to positive results for the peace process."
Two journalists who covered the Nablus demonstration complained that PA policemen beat them and broke their cameras. Five demonstrators were arrested.
The protest was organized by a group of women outside the PA prison in the city, where dozens of Hamas supporters are being held.
Hamas legislator Ahmed al-Haj delivered a speech in which he launched a scathing attack on the PA leadership and security forces. In response, Fatah gunmen tried to attack him, forcing the legislator to hide in a nearby post office.
Col. Ahmed Sharqawi, commander of the Nablus police, said about 50 women participated in the "unlicensed" demonstration outside the prison and tried to block some roads. He also accused the women of hurling insults at the PA policemen.
The demonstrators complained that some of the detainees had been brutally tortured by Abbas's security forces in Nablus. They also accused the PA policemen of stealing the personal belongings of their sons.
In the Gaza Strip, a top Fatah leader, Zakariya al-Agha, accused Hamas of torturing dozens of Fatah activists over the past few weeks. "I've seen many forms of torture that were carried out by Israel, but what Hamas is doing is more brutal and ruthless," he said, noting that some detainees had died in Hamas-controlled prisons.
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