Last Updated: Wed Mar 16, 2011 15:46 pm (KSA) 12:46 pm (GMT)

Abbas says won’t seek re-election; heads to Gaza

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) accepted PM Minister Ismail Haniya’s invitation to visit Gaza
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) accepted PM Minister Ismail Haniya’s invitation to visit Gaza

The Palestinian president said he won't run for re-election. This is the first time Mahmoud Abbas has said explicitly he won't seek another term.

In a speech Wednesday to political allies, Abbas also said he is willing to travel to the Gaza Strip to promote reconciliation between the feuding Palestinian territories and form a united government.His visit will be the first time in four years.

"Hamas welcomes Abbas's acceptance of the Haniya initiative," senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told AFP, referring to an invitation extended by the Islamist movement's prime minister Ismail Haniya during a live broadcast on Tuesday.

"We will start preparing for the visit," he said.

Abbas said he'd be prepared to make the trip within the coming week. Gaza's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, invited Abbas on Tuesday to visit following parallel rallies in Gaza and the West Bank urging the rival Palestinian leaderships to reunite.

"I declare that I am ready to go to Gaza tomorrow so as to end the split and form a new government," Abbas said in a speech before senior members of his Fatah Party.

He urged Haniyeh to make arrangements so he could arrive in Erez within the next two to four days, "so we can end this dark and dishonorable chapter of division."

Spokesman Taher Nunu said the Hamas government "welcomes the positive response of Mr. Abbas to the prime minister's initiative and the government (is) currently considering the necessary arrangements for this visit."

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement "welcomed the remarks of Mr. Abbas" and called on the government "to take all the required steps to arrange for this visit"

Abbas has offered to go to Gaza before.

But the parallel rallies on Tuesday in both West Bank and Gaza led by young disaffected Palestinians, combined with the wave of unrest sweeping through the region, has put heavy pressure on both leaders to resolve their differences. The Palestinian division is a major obstacle to their dreams to establish an independent state incorporating the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinian leader has not been in Gaza since Hamas militants overran the territory during a five-day civil war in June 2007, leaving him in control of only the West Bank.

Abbas' unity plan includes a call for elections within six months.

In his speech, Abbas told his Fatah allies that he would not stand for re-election - the first time he has said so explicitly. However, it is not at all clear that elections will be held.

In January, Abbas said he would hold elections by September but he later backpedaled to say elections could not be held until the West Bank and Gaza are reconciled. Repeated efforts at reconciliation have failed.

Abbas' term expired a year ago, but he had consistently held off scheduling new elections because of turmoil inside Fatah and the growing strength of Hamas in the West Bank.

Hamas beats students

Meanwhile, dozens of Hamas police and security forces on Wednesday entered Gaza City's al-Azhar university and began beating up students heading out for a protest, witnesses told AFP.

Sources inside the university said the security forces were dressed in civilian clothing and had targeted students heading out for a demonstration calling for national unity which was to have taken place at 11:00 am (0900 GMT) in the Square of the Unknown Soldier.

Several students had been injured in the attack, which was still ongoing, and the police had forced their way into the university's administrative offices, witnesses said.

But a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry denied that police had entered the university.

"What happened at the university was a problem between students," Ihab al-Ghussein told AFP.

However, witnesses and an AFP photographer at the scene said police were still blocking the gates, preventing anyone from leaving or entering the university premises.

Wednesday's demonstration, which had been called by a student group called "Enough," was organized a day after tens of thousands had taken to the streets of Gaza and the West Bank to demand that Hamas and the rival Fatah movement, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, end their bitter enmity.

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