'Major Jihad has begun'
Abbas says Jihad to build Palestinian homeland is starting, adds, 'We must explain to the world that he who continues with the security fence and settlements does not want peace.' Hamas holds rally in Gaza's central square, says it will not stop attacks against Israel, despite withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza Strip
Today the small jihad to free our land has ended and the larger jihad to build our homeland has begun, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday in a speech to high school students in Gaza.
"We must explain to the world that he who continues with the security fence and settlements does not want peace," he said. "It is clear the Israelis must stop these actions; we are interested in a permanent peace plan that would include a solution to the refugee issue and a settler-free West Bank."
During his speech, Abbas emphasized the PA's decision regarding land arrangements following Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, adding that anyone violating this law would be punished.
Abbas signed a decree on Saturday giving his government control over all lands and assets left behind by Israeli troops and settlers. The decree said no one can make personal use of the real estate until ownership has been sorted out.
Some 3,000 Palestinian homes are to be built in the evacuated Gush Katif settlement of Morag with money donated by the Arab Emirates, Abbas said, reiterating his promise to build new homes for all Rafah residents who lost their houses in the Intifada.
In addition, Abbas announced that legislative elections would be held on January 25, a move that could boost his international credibility and encourage his biggest political rival, Hamas, to hold its fire during the Gaza withdrawal.
Hamas ready for elections
Meanwhile, dozens of masked Hamas gunmen briefly took over Gaza's central square on Saturday, announcing they would not halt attacks, despite Israel's ongoing withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Their appearance in the park was a direct challenge to Abbas, who has appealed to factions not to flaunt their weapons in public. It also underscored the reluctance of police to confront gunmen.
However, Israel has warned it would launch a major ground offensive if soldiers and settlers were to come under fire during the pullout.
The group could lose public support if Hamas attacks invite massive Israeli retaliation, something Hamas campaigners may not want to risk as they prepare for the legislative election.
Hamas' political leaders welcomed the setting of the election date and West Bank leader Hassan Yousef said his group was ready for its first national contest.
In recent months, Hamas has made a strong showing in several rounds of municipal elections, and was also expected to do well in the parliament vote.
"We have prepared our list of candidates, and we have even reserved a seat for the Christian minorities," Yousef said.
Associated Press contributed to the report