By Rami Ayyub, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday postponed planned parliamentary elections amid a dispute over voting in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and splits in his Fatah party.
Abbas, 85, blamed Israel for uncertainty about whether it would allow the legislative elections to proceed in Jerusalem as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
The decision came three months after he announced the first national elections for 15 years in what was widely seen as a response to criticism of the democratic legitimacy of Palestinian institutions, including his own presidency.
The dispute over Jerusalem was the principal reason cited by Abbas in a speech early Friday following a meeting of Palestinian political factions.
“Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of Jerusalem and its people is guaranteed,” Abbas said in the speech on Palestinian TV.
“Jerusalem will not be compromised, and our people in Jerusalem will not give up their right to exercise their democratic rights.”
The delay of the parliamentary elections set for May is likely to draw intense domestic criticism, with Abbas and his allies trailing in polls to challengers from his divided Fatah party and the Islamist group Hamas.
It was not immediately clear whether a presidential vote scheduled for July – the first since 2005 – would go ahead.
Protesters gathered in Gaza and the West Bank city of Ramallah ahead of the announcement calling for the elections to proceed as scheduled and Abbas’s principal domestic rivals, the Islamist militant group Hamas, immediately criticised him for the reversal.
“We reject this decision which violates the national consensus, and Fatah movement bears responsibility for the consequences of this position,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters.
Abbas had hinted at the delay for weeks by claiming that Israel had not agreed to permit East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote in the city.
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said earlier this week that there had been no formal Israeli announcement on whether it would allow Palestinian voting in Jerusalem – as it did during the last elections in 2006 – and Israeli officials said on Thursday that there had been no change.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; editing by Richard Pullin)