Mahmoud Abbas has announced presidential and parliamentary polls in the Palestinian territories on January 24.
It applies not only to the West Bank, a stronghold of his secular Fatah faction, but also to the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas. With separate seats of power in Ramallah and Gaza City, efforts to reach unity have failed despite Egyptian-brokered talks. If an agreement is found, it is thought the election date could be rescheduled. But hopes of reconciliation have been dealt a fatal blow by Abbas setting the poll date, according to Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. For him, the move cements Palestinian division. He said Abbas had succumbed to US pressure not to reconcile unless Hamas recognises conditions set by the so-called Quartet of Middle East envoys. Such conditions include an insistence that Hamas recognises Israel’s right to exist. Hamas won the last parliamentary election in 2006. A power struggle followed and in 2007 the Islamists seized the Gaza Strip by force.