Posted: 12 Feb 2011 03:58 PM PST
The election call came a day after protests in Cairo led to the overthrow of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Abbas's Palestinian Authority said the spirit of change in Egypt should inspire Palestinians to unite.
"The Palestinian leadership decided to hold presidential and legislative elections before September," senior Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters.
"It urges all the sides to put their differences aside," he said, referring to a bitter rivalry between Abbas's West Bank-based government and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
But a quick solution to the Palestinian divide seemed unlikely and Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the Western-backed Abbas, who has served as president since 2005, lacks the legitimacy to make such a call.
"Hamas will not take part in this election. We will not give it legitimacy. And we will not recognise the results," Barhoum told Reuters.
The groups disagree on the interpretation of Palestinian election laws and previous ballots were cancelled with the sides unable to reach a reconciliation deal.
Abbed Rabbo said the disagreements could be resolved in a new legislative council to be formed after the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Hamas won the last parliamentary election in 2006 and a year later routed Abbas's forces to seize control of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas's opposition to Abbas's peace moves with Israel is one of the issues keeping the factions apart.
US-sponsored peace negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli teams have faltered since being relaunched last year.
Abed Rabbo said that Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in the recent round of talks, has tendered his resignation, but Abbas has yet to accept it.
Erekat had recently come under fire after internal memos supposedly documenting negotiation sessions with Israel were leaked to the media. Some commentators faulted Erekat for making what they considered to be far-reaching concessions to Israel.
Abed Rabbo called on US President Barack Obama to step up efforts in helping to reach a Palestinian statehood deal. — Reuters
Posted: 12 Feb 2011 03:53 PM PST
Some pro-democracy activists in Cairo's Tahrir (Liberation) Square, the epicentre of an earthquake of popular protest that unseated Mubarak, have vowed to stay there until the Higher Military Council accepts their agenda for democratic reform.
If the military fails to meet "people's demands", protest organisers said they would stage more demonstrations.
Throughout the Middle East, autocratic rulers were calculating their chances of survival after Mubarak was forced from power in a dramatic 18-day uprising that changed the course of Egypt's history, unsettling the United States and its allies.
"The Arab Republic of Egypt is committed to all regional and international obligations and treaties," a senior army officer said in a statement on state television, outlining the armed forces' broad strategies at home and abroad.
The message was clearly designed to try and soothe concerns in Israel which has a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, the first Arab nation to make peace with the Jewish state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the statement.
In another move to promote order, the army said it would "guarantee the peaceful transition of power in the framework of a free, democratic system which allows an elected, civilian power to govern the country to build a democratic, free state".
After the army statement, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, viewed warily by the United States, said it was not seeking power and praised the army's plans to transfer power to civilians.
Crowds celebrated the first day of the post-Mubarak era while protest organisers urged the army to meet demands including the dissolution of parliament and the lifting of a 30-year-old state of emergency used by Mubarak to crush dissent.
On Tahrir Square, the army dismantled checkpoints and some barricades were removed. Volunteers proudly swept the square.
Scenes of jubilation lasted well into the night, with people dancing and children waving flags. Cars blared horns and people showed victory signs to each other. Others photographed each other holding flowers with smiling soldiers.
"The army is with us but it must realise our demands," said pharmacist Ghada Elmasalmy, 43.
It remains to be seen what appetite the military has for a quick transition to genuine parliamentary democracy. The military council gave few details of a "transitional phase" and gave no timetable for presidential or parliamentary elections.
The new administration, keen to dissociate itself from Mubarak's old guard, said they were investigating accusations against the former prime minister, interior minister and information minister, state television reported.
The tumultuous events in Egypt sent shockwaves abroad.
In Yemen, a demonstration by some 2,000 people inspired by the Egyptian revolt broke up after clashes with pro-government demonstrators armed with knives and batons. In Algiers thousands of police stopped government opponents from staging a march.
Mubarak, 82, was believed to be at his residence in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, his future unclear.
Al Arabiya has said the army will soon dismiss the cabinet and suspend parliament. The head of the Constitutional Court would join the leadership with the military council, which was given the job of running the country of 80 million people.
The cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, another former military man, was scheduled to meet today.
The best deterrent to any military attempt to stay in control could be the street power and energy of protesters who swept out Mubarak because he governed without their consent.
One priority was restoring law and order before the working week starts today. Tanks and soldiers have guarded key buildings and intersections since the disgraced police force largely melted away after failing to crush protesters.
One task is to repair police stations that were burnt down by Egyptians with a deep hatred of the Interior Ministry.
"The first priority, no question about it, is security. An equally important priority is to provide the elements needed for the daily life of citizens," Shafiq told state television after he met the head of the armed forces Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. State media said Tantawi discussed with Shafiq the need for "the immediate return of life to normality".
Eighteen days of rallies, resisting police assaults, rubber bullets, live rounds and a last-ditch charge by pro-Mubarak hardliners on horses and camels, had brought improbable success.
"This is the start of the revolution, it's not over yet, but I have to go back to work," said Mohammed Saeed, 30, packing away his tent on Tahrir Square.
Mohammed Farrag, 31, who was also departing, said he believed stability was returning. "But we will not give up on Egypt as a civilian state, not a military state," he said.
Many protesters still in the square said they were staying in the makeshift tent city partly because they feared that security forces would pick them up if they went home.
As evening fell, hundreds of core protesters prepared to camp out overnight, setting down for bed time on the square.
"People's Communique No.1", issued by protest organisers in imitation of the military council's "Communique No.1", demanded the dissolution of the cabinet Mubarak named on January 29 and of the parliament elected in a rigged vote late last year.
Some organisers were forming a Council of Trustees to defend the revolution and negotiate with the military council.
"If the army does not fulfil our demands, our uprising and its measures will return stronger," Safwat Hegazi, a protest leader, told Reuters. The Council plans to call for a mass turnout on Friday to celebrate the success of the revolution.
Egypt's opposition had been throttled by emergency rule imposed after Mubarak succeeded Anwar Sadat, shot dead by an Islamist army officer in 1981, and there has been no obvious Nelson Mandela or Lech Walesa to spearhead Egypt's revolution.
Protest groups that have sprung up in recent years have proved far more nimble and web-savvy as Mubarak's grip weakened.
One possible leader is Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister who has said he will resign from his post as Arab League chief.
Other potential contenders are retired diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei and scientist Ahmed Zewail, both Nobel Prize winners.
The best organised group is the Muslim Brotherhood, but its true level of support, and internal cohesion, is not known.
"We support and value the sound direction that the Higher Military Council is taking on the way to transfer power peacefully to create a civilian government," said the Brotherhood, saying it would not seek power.
It was unclear if any of the little-known youth leaders behind the well-organised revolt wanted to hold office.
In the United States, President Barack Obama said on Friday "nothing less than genuine democracy" would satisfy Egyptians.
Washington has pursued a sometimes shifting line since the anti-Mubarak protests began on January 25, wary of losing a bulwark against militant Islam but keen to back political freedom.
US Undersecretary of State William Burns visited Jordan on Friday and yesterday and discussed the situation in Egypt, among other matters, the State Department said. Washington's top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen was due there today.
Obama spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah, the White House said. Jordan, another secular US ally on Israel's border, is suffering like other Arab states from economic turbulence. — Reuters
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