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Palestinians to hold local polls on July 9: source


The Palestinian cabinet decided on Tuesday to hold local elections on July 9, in what will be the first Palestinian vote since 2006, a source close to government told AFP.

"The Palestinian cabinet has decided that July 9 will be the date for local elections," he told AFP, saying a formal statement would be issued shortly.

Local polls were originally set for July 17, 2010 but postponed after the Islamic Hamas movement, which rules Gaza, said it would not participate.

Since then, the position of Hamas has not changed, meaning the elections are likely to be limited to the West Bank, which is governed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas.

The last time the Palestinians went to the polls was in 2006 for legislative elections, which Hamas won by a landslide. Local elections were last held in 2005.

Since January 2009, when Abbas's four-year term as president expired, Hamas has refused to recognise the authority of his Ramallah-based government. Abbas's term in office has been indefinitely extended pending new elections.

Last week, prime minister Salam Fayyad said local polls would be held "this year" and that it was time to start preparing for a general election, prompting Hamas to restate its opposition to any new vote.

"The movement will not participate in this farce," Hamas said in a statement at the time. "The movement will not recognise the result of this process."

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are separated by Israeli territory and are ruled by rival administrations.

The Ramallah government had called a general election for January 2010 but backed down after Hamas refused to hold parallel polls in Gaza.

Hamas says there can be no fresh vote without reconciliation with the rival Fatah party, which is headed by Abbas and dominates the Palestinian Authority.

A year after winning the 2006 elections, Hamas ousted its Fatah rivals from the Gaza Strip following a week of bloody street battles, bringing to a head many years of bitter rivalry between the two movements.

Local elections were last held across the Palestinian territories in 2005.