May 17, 2012 - 12:00am

RAMALLAH, May 17 (Xinhua) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree to hold local elections in the West Bank, excluding the Gaza Strip where his rival Hamas movement holds sway, a Palestinian official said Thursday.

The decree authorizes the reshuffled government, which was sworn in on Wednesday, to hold the municipal elections in stages, said Khaled Al-Qawasmi, minister of local governing.

"The decree helps the government to set up a date for the elections, which is the main priority for the government," Al- Qawasmi told Voice of Palestine radio.

The last round of local elections took place in the Palestinian territories in 2005. A year later, Hamas, which has its biggest constituencies in the Gaza Strip, won parliamentary elections, and in 2007 it routed pro-Abbas forces and took over the coastal land.

Al-Qawasmi said electing new municipal councils "has become a political necessity," criticizing Hamas for "blocking the Palestinian political system" by refusing to hold the polls in Gaza.

The law stipulates that the municipal council should change via elections every four years.

For Hamas, municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections should not be held before a full reconciliation with Abbas's Fatah party is achieved.

"Any elections held in the West Bank alone are meaningless and lack credibility ... they will be widening the internal split," said Salah Al-Baradweel, a Hamas official in Gaza.

Hamas and Fatah signed several reconciliation deals, the last one was brokered by Qatar in February, but the two sides could not implement the agreements.

Fatah accuses Hamas of hindering the deal by not allowing the Central Elections Commission (CEC) to operate in Gaza, while Hamas says the CEC can work only when a unity government is formed.


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