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(photo credit: AP)
PLO leaders Thursday urged Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led government and call new elections at the beginning of next year.
Hamas, for its part, said its representatives will run in any election in the PA, including a presidential one.
This is the first time Hamas has announced it will present a candidate for the presidency of the PA. Hamas has thus far participated only in parliamentary elections.
PA officials said a six-member PLO committee set up by Abbas last week to study ways of resolving the crisis with Hamas over the formation of a unity government recommended that the PA chairman fire the Hamas-led government and call new elections in March 2007.
According to the officials, Abbas, who has yet to endorse the recommendations, decided to hold marathon discussions with PLO and Fatah leaders over the weekend to win their backing for any measures he may take against the Hamas-led government.
Although he has repeatedly stated over the past week that the unity talks had reached a "dead end" and that he saw no point in resuming negotiations with Hamas, Abbas expressed hope Thursday that a unity government would eventually be established.
"Our ultimate goal is to form a national unity government that would be able to end the international sanctions imposed on our people," he told reporters in Ramallah.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah legislator closely associated with Abbas, said it was most likely that the Palestinians will hold new parliamentary and presidential elections next March.
"This is the only solution for the crisis," he said. "President Abbas will hold intensive consultations over the weekend with many leaders, after which he will deliver an important speech to the Palestinian public about the crisis with Hamas."
Another top Fatah official, Adnan Samara, said Abbas was determined to hold parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously.
"The political developments on the local and international arenas make it inconceivable for us to have a two-headed authority," he said.
Samara said the unity talks had failed because Hamas insisted on retaining control over the Finance and Interior ministries.
"Hamas is not afraid of new elections," said Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior Hamas representative in the Gaza Strip. "If Abbas wants to hold early elections, then we must also have presidential elections. Hamas will participate in these elections together with other Palestinian factions, and we are confident that we will win."
Abbas was elected in the January 2005 presidential election for a four-year term. The 72-year-old chairman has made it clear that he does not plan to run for a second term.