Palestinian Authority Sets Elections for July

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JERUSALEM, Israel - For the first time since January 2006, the Palestinian Authority announced Tuesday it will hold elections on July 9. Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip, immediately rejected the announcement.

P.A. spokesman Ghassan Khatib said the cabinet voted to hold elections in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza, but if Hamas disallowed elections, they would still be held in the West Bank. 

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Army Radio the Fatah-affiliated P.A. government has no authority to hold elections and Hamas would not participate until the two factions are reconciled.

"These elections are as illegal as the government of [Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad," senior Hamas operative Mushri al-Masri said on Tuesday. "We say no to elections before ending the current Palestinian split because holding it under such circumstances would reinforce the split."

Efforts mediated by Egypt to reconcile the two rival factions have failed repeatedly since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in a bloody military coup in June 2007. Within days of the takeover, P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the three-month-old unity coalition and appointed Fayyad to replace Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister.

Abbas' four-year term as president, which ended in January 2009, has been extended indefinitely.

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