RAMALLAH, West Bank, AP-Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday called off upcoming parliamentary elections, a move that gives his struggling Fatah party time to fend off a growing challenge from the Islamic group Hamas.
Hamas denounced Abbas” decision as a violation of a cease-fire agreement, but stopped short of pulling out of the truce.
Abbas, announcing the delay from his headquarters in Ramallah, said a new date would be set after discussions with the Palestinian legislature and rival political factions, such as Hamas.
Abbas has been at odds with members of his party over the voting procedure. Abbas wants all candidates to compete at a "national" level, while some members of the party favor local races.
Abbas has refused to support legislation passed by parliament that would have two-thirds of the seats chosen in regional districts and one-third in national party slates.
But the delay appeared to be aimed at heading off the Hamas threat. The Islamic group has won a number of key races in recent local elections, and appears poised to make strong gains in the legislative election as well. It is the first time Hamas has fielded candidates for parliament.
"Hamas rejects the decision to call off the election," said spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "We consider this decision as a violation for all the Palestinian understandings and national agreements."
In March, Hamas and other Palestinian factions agreed to honor a cease-fire reached between Abbas and Israel. As part of the agreement, Abbas promised the militants an official role in Palestinian decision-making.
Hamas had threatened to walk away from the truce with Israel if Abbas delayed the elections. But Abu Zuhri said only that Abbas” decision "might harm the credibility of relations" between the Palestinian Authority and rival factions.
Islamic Jihad, a violent group that had planned to boycott the election, called for the Palestinians to strengthen national unity.