The Palestinian Election Commission signaled on Monday that a parliamentary vote set for July 17 will have to be delayed as it needs more time to prepare, a move that could stoke factional strife.
Hamas militants battered President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party in recent municipal elections and demand the parliamentary vote be held on time. Fatah's bid to have courts annul some of its losses, claiming fraud, has drawn Hamas protests.
Any election delay is likely to inflame &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/hotspots/2001/12/21/24193.html ' target=_blank>Hamas, which is sworn to destroying Israel but agreed in March to a ceasefire until the end of 2005 to give Abbas a chance to negotiate with the Jewish state on Palestinian statehood.
The election commission, an independent body, said it needed at least two months from the time a new election law, enacted on May 18, is ratified by Abbas to lay the groundwork for voting, tells Reuters.
Hamas, which has scored well in recent local elections and was expected to win a large number of seats in parliament in the July 17 vote, accused &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/hotspots/2001/08/27/13488.html ' target=_blank>Fatah of pressuring the commission to put off the ballot in order to preserve its own power.
The two sides are already locked in a dispute over results of some municipal elections. A full-blown conflict between Hamas and Fatah could undermine the fragile cease-fire Palestinians have maintained with Israel since February.
''This delay is the result of narrow factional interests and it will only hurt the Palestinian people," said Hassan Yousef, a leading Hamas figure in the West Bank. ''We strongly reject the decision."