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Blair backs gamble on elections by Palestinian leader
by UK Independent (reposted)
Sunday Dec 17th, 2006 12:44 PM
PM seeks to revive faltering Middle East peace process, but bid to outflank Hamas could worsen bloody power struggle
Tony Blair last night urged international support for the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who announced a gamble on early elections to break a deadlock with Hamas. The Prime Minister, who is on a peace drive in the Middle East, said in Cairo that it was the duty of world leaders to back Mr Abbas.

"This is the moment for the international community to come behind him, to help build his authority and his capability, to deliver improvements in the living standards of Palestinian people but also in the progress that we all want to see on resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue," Mr Blair said after talks with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. "Hamas at the present time is not prepared to be constructive."

But the Palestinian leader is taking a high risk. His announcement that he would call new presidential and parliamentary elections could make worse the already volatile power struggle between his own Fatah faction and Hamas. Within hours, gunmen from the two groups clashed in southern Gaza.

Mr Abbas's gamble - designed to secure a government which can lift the 10-month international and Israeli blockade that followed Hamas's election last January - was immediately condemned by Hamas as an illegal "coup" to bring down a legitimately elected government.