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Palestinian elections set for Jan. 25

Associated Press
Published August 21, 2005

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree Saturday appropriating Jewish settlement land for public use once Israel's evacuation of Gaza is complete, and he scheduled postponed Palestinian legislative elections for Jan. 25.

Both measures are meant to ease suspicions among Abbas' political rivals over the intentions of the Palestinian Authority and encourage them to hold their fire during the pullout.

The withdrawal paused for the Jewish Sabbath, but Israeli officials said they planned to speed up this week's timetable. The last Gaza settlements should be empty by Monday, and the army plans to begin clearing two settlements in the northern West Bank on Tuesday, they said.

Military officials said about 2,000 antiwithdrawal protesters had slipped into those two settlements, and some were armed. They said police anticipated stiffer resistance than they encountered in Gaza, where the evacuation went with little violence.

Officials said the army was trying to stem the flow of protesters into the area, though the terrain was open and difficult to control.

Egypt's president cautioned Israel against trying to seal off the Gaza Strip's people after the pullout, saying that would bring the discontent that breeds violence.

Hosni Mubarak said Israeli Prime Minster Ariel Sharon is the only Israeli leader who can make peace. The Egyptian leader said in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot that Sharon has the necessary grasp of security issues, the power and the decisiveness to make peace, and praised him as a man of his word.

Abbas' proclamation seizing control of the evacuated Gaza land seeks to assert the authority of the Palestinian government in an area where political warlords largely dominate and where official corruption is ingrained. Many Palestinians feared prime land could end in the hands of senior officials of the ruling Fatah organization.

The 21 Gaza settlements, with 8,500 residents, and several military installations controlled about 20 percent of the coastal strip that also is home to 1.3-million Palestinians. About 9 percent of the land expropriated by Israel is claimed by private owners, who will be able to reclaim it. The rest had been in the public domain.

As Abbas issued his decree, dozens of masked gunmen from the Hamas movement briefly took over the central square of Gaza City in a show of defiance against the Palestinian Authority's leader.

Abbas said Saturday that Israel must halt the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, an essential element of the peace process.

Militants have kept up low-level attacks during the Gaza withdrawal, but relative calm has prevailed since the pullout began Monday. Israeli officials said troops in Gaza expected to complete the evacuation of Katif, Atzmona and Elei Sinai and remove a few infiltrators in Slav today. Residents of Netzarim, the final settlement, pledged to leave Monday.

[Last modified August 21, 2005, 00:51:14]

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