RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Monday he would push on with plans for early elections despite bitter opposition from the Hamas government. Blair said it was critical that the international community supported the moderate Abbas in the coming weeks.
The two leaders were meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah just hours after a truce took effect in Gaza following days of heavy fighting between forces loyal to Abbas and Hamas that pushed the impoverished strip to the brink of civil war.
Fighting escalated after Abbas called on Saturday for fresh elections, a move intended to break political deadlock with Hamas and get Western sanctions on its administration lifted. “On Saturday, I called for early presidential and legislative elections. With the current impasse I felt it was essential to allow the people to have their say on a platform that achieves Palestinian national interests,” Abbas told a joint news conference with Blair. But Abbas said he was still open to the formation of a unity government of technocrats.
The West has sought to bolster Abbas, who favours a two-state solution to end conflict with Israel.
The Hamas Islamists seek the Jewish state’s destruction and have struggled to govern since taking office in March under the weight of Western sanctions that were imposed because of their refusal to recognise Israel and renounce violence.
Blair said the international community’s job was to “support the people of moderation”. “If the international community really means what it says about supporting people who share the vision of a two state solution, who are moderate, who are prepared to shoulder their responsibilities, then now is the time for the international community to respond,” Blair said. “I believe this is so critical and urgent over the coming weeks.”
Abbas’s Fatah and Hamas accused each other of violating a Gaza ceasefire but said it was still in effect.
Officials from Hamas and Fatah were expected to meet on Monday to try to cement the ceasefire. Previous deals to end internal fighting this year have quickly collapsed.
Blair, on a drive to revive Middle East peace negotiations, arrived in Israel just before Hamas and Fatah announced the deal on Sunday night. He will hold talks later with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.