Abbas Seeks Early Palestinian Elections

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, July 18, 2007. AFP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday he would call early elections.He also harshly denounced rival Hamas in a speech before a Palestine Liberation Organization body, declaring, "even the devil cannot match their lies."

Abbas was addressing the Palestine Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah. He heaped criticism on Hamas because of its violent takeover of Gaza last month, when it vanquished Fatah forces loyal to Abbas.

"We will call on the council to decide on early elections," he said. "We want elections because a democratic choice is the right for all the people," he said. "We won't exclude anybody from having their say in a democratic way."

Earlier Wednesday, Palestinian officials said Abbas was considering calling an election to freeze Hamas out of the political arena. Abbas dismissed the Hamas-led government after the Gaza takeover and installed a new Cabinet with his backers.

In other developments:

  • Israel's unprepared civil defense left citizens exposed and highly vulnerable to Hezbollah rocket attacks during last year's Lebanon war, the Israeli government watchdog said in a scathing report issued Wednesday. The wartime defense minister, Amir Peretz, and army chief, Dan Halutz, already have stepped down. The final report, due in October, could increase pressure on Olmert to resign.

  • A group representing Israeli victims of Palestinian violence asked the Supreme Court on Wednesday to delay the planned release of 256 Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture toward the Abbas government. The Almagor group said more time is needed to review the files of the prisoners. Emi Palmor, director of pardons in the Israeli Justice Ministry, said Wednesday's legal challenge was unlikely to delay the release.

  • Norway plans to call two meetings this year of the Palestinian donors group it chairs to raise funds for the new Palestinian government, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday. The committee, which has not met since 2005, is co-sponsored by the United States and the European Union, and includes Japan, Canada, Russia and several Arab states.

  • Israeli troops arrested 19 suspected Palestinian militants in the West Bank, the army said. The operation came days after military officials said they were scaling back such raids in another gesture to Abbas. Military officials said the lull was temporary while Israel worked out a deal granting amnesty to 178 gunmen affiliated with Abbas' Fatah movement. The deal was finalized early this week.

  • (AP)
    The synchronized worldwide launch of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and last installment in the wildly popular series, falls at 2:01 a.m. local time this Saturday — on the Jewish Sabbath, when Israeli law requires most businesses to close. But many bookstores are planning to launch the book at the appointed hour. The Industry and Trade Minister, an Orthodox Jew, has threatened to fine any store that opens Saturday. Another religious lawmaker slammed the Potter books for their "defective messages."
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      Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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