CBSN

Palestinian Elections Set For Jan.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas wave as he arrive at a rally celebrating the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, in the Gaza international airport, outside Rafah in the southern Gaza strip, Friday, Aug. 19, 2005. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Friday promised his people jobs, freedom of movement and new homes after Israel's Gaza pullout.(AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
AP
Palestinian parliamentary elections will be held Jan. 25, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas announced Saturday.

The elections were to have been held in July, but were postponed indefinitely because of Israel's Gaza pullout. In setting a firm date, Abbas was making a conciliatory gesture to his political rival, Hamas, which is expected to make a strong showing in the vote.

"The parliamentary election will take place in all of the homeland districts on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2006," Abbas told a "model parliament" of high school students in Gaza City on Saturday.

Abbas also signed a decree that gives 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 distributed.

On Friday, Abbas promised freedom, jobs and homes for the people of Gaza once Israel completes its pullout. Hours before he spoke at Gaza's abandoned airport, an Israeli bulldozer demolished the first Jewish settlement, clearing land for Palestinian development.

In the settlement of Gadid, Israeli troops expelled the last settlers holed up in a synagogue, crashing through a flaming barricade of cars, wooden planks and garbage bins.

Soldiers carried men out kicking and shouting, while young women were escorted out in tears, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.

Then, Israel suspended evicting settlers for the Jewish Sabbath, having evacuated 87 percent of Gaza's settlers in just 2 1/2 days. All but four settlements were vacant.

Smiling and waving to a cheering crowd at the closed Gaza International Airport, Abbas said Israel's departure was bringing "historic days of joy" to the Palestinians.

In his first major speech since Israel began pulling out on Monday, he promised that the airport, whose runways were destroyed by Israel in fighting in 2000, would again become a gateway for Palestinians, though that will require Israel's blessing.

Abbas also pledged the Palestinian Authority would rebuild homes demolished by Israel during the past five years of conflict. He promised to reserve 5 percent of government jobs for the disabled, mainly war-wounded.

He told the crowd that Israel was quitting Gaza because of Palestinian "sacrifices" and "patience," and he promised the withdrawal would lead to further pullouts from the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Earlier, hundreds of Palestinians from the town of Rafah offered prayers of thanks in sandy open ground within sight of two deserted settlements, celebrating the coming return of land, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, that became home to 8,500 Jewish settlers.

"We won, so we came to thank God for our victory," said Abdel Raouf Barbar, an official of Abbas's Fatah party. With parliamentary elections scheduled in January, the party is competing with the Islamic group Hamas to claim credit for the Israeli withdrawal.

On Friday, two Hamas militants were wounded when an explosive device they were carrying accidentally blew up before they could plant it near the evacuated Kfar Darom settlement, Palestinian officials said.

The extent of their injuries was unknown, said the security officials, who cannot be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the media. The militants apparently wanted to target Israeli troops still guarding the emptied settlement to bolster Hamas claims of having driven the Israelis from Gaza.