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Palestinian president calls for early elections

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• NEW: 13 injured in clashes between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza
Elections to take place within three months, Palestinian president says
Official says elections may not happen until mid-2007
Hamas rejects election call, may not participate
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Saturday called for early elections, amid increased violence between political factions and the collapse of talks on forming a unity government.

Abbas called for presidential and legislative elections to end the stalemate between his Fatah party and the ruling Hamas party, the Palestinians' two major political movements, which are locked in a worsening power struggle.

The announcement came in an impassioned speech that was broadcast on television. (Watch Abbas promise to let Palestinian people decide Video)

Hamas immediately rejected the idea, and it was not clear if the ruling party would participate in the elections.

"This is a real coup against the democratically elected government," senior Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri told the Reuters news agency.

Abbas also said that Palestinians would not be drawn into civil war, noting the violence that has erupted in recent days, including an attack on the Palestinian prime minister and street battles in Gaza and the West Bank.

In the latest violence, 13 Palestinians were injured in clashes between Hamas and Fatah supporters in Gaza, nine in the town of Khan Younis and four in the town of Rafah, according to Palestinian security sources.

Earlier in his remarks, Abbas said he didn't want his Fatah party to be part of a Hamas-led government, and said he had the constitutional right to dissolve the government.

Abbas said the people must be the moderators of what happens next in Palestinian politics.

"We need to lift the siege, everyone must work together to achieve this objective," the president said.

Millions in aid from the West was cut off after Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, won elections in January. Hamas also refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.

White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo reacted positively to Abbas' proposal.

"While the elections are an internal matter, we hope this helps bring the violence to an end and the formation of a Palestinian Authority committed to the Quartet principles," she said.

The Mideast Quartet includes the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union, which have been trying to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, traveling in the Middle East Saturday, backed Abbas' election announcement and urged the international community to support him, according to wire service reports.

Abbas said the elections would take place within three months.

However, Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said that preliminary work needs to be done by the Palestinian election committee. Then a time frame can be recommended to Abbas who would issue a decree for the elections.

Erakat said he thought elections would not take place before mid-2007.

Abbas' announcement, from his West Bank headquarters, was met by loud applause from hundreds of supporters, The Associated Press reported.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, hundreds of supporters of Abbas' Fatah movement rushed into the street in celebration, with dozens of gunmen firing in the air as the crowd chanted, "Go, go, we are with you until liberation," the AP reported.

Hamas blames Fatah for attack

The problems spiked Thursday when Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was attacked as he tried to re-enter Gaza carrying millions of dollars for his people following a tour of neighboring countries. (Full story)

Hamas officials blamed Fatah, the former ruling party, for the attack on Haniya.

Abbas Saturday denied there was any conspiracy to kill Haniya, and said that Hamas supporters sparked the violence at that border crossing by bringing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades to welcome their leader home.

Friday, tens of thousands of Hamas supporters took to the streets to protest the alleged assassination attempt on Haniya. Tensions boiled over into fighting in both Gaza and the West Bank. Medical sources said 38 people were hurt in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In Gaza City, masked gunman loyal to Hamas fought police allied to the Fatah party, The Associated Press reported. There were no reports of casualties.

Haniya addressed a huge rally in Gaza City Friday celebrating the 19th anniversary of the Islamic Hamas movement, which ousted Fatah from power in January. (Watch Haniya speak surrounded by gun-toting bodyguards Video)

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said new elections would end the stalemate between Fatah and Hamas.



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