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Egypt proposes Palestinian election delay: officials

GAZA (Reuters) - An Egyptian proposal to end a rift between President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas calls for a delay of presidential and legislative elections due in January, Palestinian officials said on Thursday.

Officials from the two groups said Egypt suggested elections be held in the first half of 2010 to give it more time to secure a power-sharing deal between Fatah, which governs the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers.

Legislative and parliamentary elections are slated for January 25 but it remains unclear how they could take place with the Palestinian population split in two territories run by rival administrations that do not recognize one another.

Western-backed Abbas has said he would hold the elections on time with or without a deal with Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 after routing his Fatah forces. Hamas has said it would block the ballot if Abbas goes ahead with the plan.

“Egypt believes Abbas will not hold the elections as long as Gaza remains politically separated from the West Bank. Holding the elections will be hard and will mean divisions may last years,” said an independent legislator, declining to be named.

Egypt has been trying to mediate a unity deal between Hamas and Fatah but its efforts have so far shown no sign of progress in finding a formula for power-sharing in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian proposal also stipulates that most Hamas political activists jailed by Fatah-led forces in the West Bank and Fatah men held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip would be released after a deal is reached. Hamas wants its men freed prior to an accord.

A Fatah official said Abbas would convene a meeting of the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee to discuss Egypt’s proposal.

“The most dangerous issue in (Egypt’s proposal) is the elections and the possibility of postponing them,” the official said, adding Fatah was opposed in principle to delaying the ballot.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, said it had an understanding with Cairo “that the elections should not be held without an (unity) agreement and that they should not be held in one Palestinian territory alone.”

Editing by Myra MacDonald