Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a Saturday speech to officials and journalists in Ramallah, declared that he intends to move up elections for the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas said that he calls for moving up both presidential and general elections, in order to get out of the current bottleneck. "The people are the source of our authority," he said. "I will return to the people and let them decide."
Nonetheless, Abbas left a loophole for Hamas: He stated that he would meet with the election committee to decide upon a new date for the elections, but refrained from suggested one, saying that the best solution would still be a technocratic government established by agreement between Hamas and Fatah.
Fatah gunmen in streets of Gaza (Photo: AFP)
Following Abbas' declaration, thousands of Fatah activists, including hundreds of gunmen from the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Fatah's military wing, took to the streets of Gaza Saturday and began shooting in the air.
In an implicit call for renewed talks on a unity government, Abbas also noted Hamas' changed stance on the prisoners document: "After Hamas said that the prisoners' document was treachery, and called it an Israeli and American document, now they're insisting upon (adhering to) it."
"We have no problem with the document. We see the document as important for a unity government, but (Hamas) must decide once and for all where they stand," he emphasized.
He also emphasized the importance of Hamas to accept international demands from the Palestinian government, including recognition of previous agreements with Israel, highlighting that one such agreement, the Oslo accords, is part of the mechanism that allowed the Hamas government to run for election in the first place.
Senior Hamas officials rejected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' declaration, claiming that Abbas has no legal authority to dismantle the government, and as such, his decision is illegal.
Abbas made the decision in the shadow of ongoing violent conflict raging in Gaza and the West Bank that reached a recent peak with the assassination attempt of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Pursuant to the attempt, violence in the Palestinian Authority escalated, resulting in 20 casualties from exchanges of fire.
Hamas leaders blamed the attempt on a senior Farah operative, Muhammad Dahlan, and on Abbbas' presidential guards.
Abbas opened his speech with a condemnation of the murder of three Palestinian children, suspected to have been perpetrated by Hamas members, of a Fatah official earlier in the week: "It is wholly unrelated to the Palestinian people or humanity in general…to surround children with three cars and gun them down."
The president censured the behavior of Haniyeh and his Hamas cronies upon the prime minister's Thursday return from Egypt to Gaza, and rejected claims that his presidency was to blame for the assassination attempt.
"I had three of my people, including Muhammad Dahlan, arrange Haniyeh's crossing in an appropriate way. But Haniyeh returned with money and dozens of armed followers waiting for him at the crossing," Abbas explained.
"When a leader returns, he's supposed to be greeted with flowers, not men holding RPGs and destroying Rafah crossing," he added.
He also condemned the violence emanating from Gaza towards Israel, declaring that the rockets launched at the Negev had prevented progress in Gaza.
Fighting between factions breaks out in the streets (Photo: Reuters)
"We dreamed that the minute Israel would withdraw, the territory would flourish and there would be dozens of developmental projects, but this dream vanished."
"Why? Because we insisted on shooting Qassams and thus we missed our dream to turn the settlements into centers for investment and growth," he said.
He also said that the Hamas-assisted kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit has "cost 500 dead and 4000 wounded and thousands of ruined houses from the resulting war on Gaza."
Automatic rejection of Abbas declarations
Prior to the speech, Hamas had declared that they would not accept any decision declared by Abbas in his speech, nor recognize any call for moving up election or for a public referendum.
In a Hamas-organized rally Friday, marking the 19th anniversary of the organization's founding, Hamas officials stated that they intend to remain in power for at least four years, and that a document regarding a unity government is the only acceptable basis for talks with Fatah.
While calling for a unity government, the organization warned in the same breath that they anyone threatening their members or their control of the government would be hit "with a rod of steel".
Chairman of the Hamas parliament faction Dr. Khala al Haya went so far as to blame Abbas for declaring war on Allah and on Hamas.
Hamas-affiliated foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar said that if Abbas has "tired of the presidency and leadership (he) can step aside and hold new elections for the presidency."