Favourite to win in the Palestinian Presidential election, Mahmoud Abbas has launched his campaign in Ramallah in the West Bank. The first meeting was opened with a minute’s silence for their former leader, Yasser Arafat.
Abbas’s headline message was he wanted “peace and security” for his people, and between now and the January 9th vote he has to ensure he wins, but also preserve unity in what may be a tough campaign. Unity was on show, with Fatah and PLO members closing ranks around their candidate, and with the end of 40 days of mourning for Arafat, Abbas’s address included ringing tributes to a man he called the “eternal leader”. As Christmas day dawned Abbas had already been busy, attending midnight mass in Bethlehem, the first Palestinian leader to do so since 2000. With Israeli security lighter and Palestinians running the show in the town itself, things were more relaxed than for years. With the campaign now off seven candidates will have to fight it out on the ground. Abbas also opened with a call for an end to the occupation and freedom for prisoners, but municipal election results already in from this weekend’s near-complete poll shows Hamas making strong gains. They along with other militant grouops are boycotting the election.