Palestinians set delayed local elections for May 13

Rival parties have not contested election since 2006 parliamentary polls

RAMALLAH - The Palestinian Authority said Tuesday that local elections delayed last October after a spat between political factions will now take place in the West Bank and Gaza on May 13.
The Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip has been at odds with president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party over the organisation of their first competitive polls in a decade.
"Today, at a regular meeting, the council of ministers decided to hold elections on May 13, to be held in the West Bank and Gaza," local government minister Hussein al-Araj said.
The rival parties have not contested an election since 2006 parliamentary polls, which Hamas won -- sparking a conflict that led to near civil war in Gaza the following year.
Reconciliation attempts have repeatedly failed, and Hamas boycotted the most recent municipal elections in 2012.
Hamas rejected the announcement. Spokesman Fawzy Barhoum said in a statement it "strengthens divisions and serves Fatah politically."
"Any upcoming elections must be part of a reconciliation," he added.
The elections will choose municipal councils in some 416 cities and towns in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The delay was sparked by the disqualification of a number of Fatah candidates in Gaza by the courts there.
Shortly afterwards rival courts in the West Bank labelled the ruling unlawful, and said the elections would go ahead only in the West Bank -- prompting the government to postpone them.
Fatah and Hamas traded blame over the delay.
Salem Barahmeh, a Palestinian commentator, said if Hamas wanted to the group could prevent the elections from taking place in Gaza.
The 2012 municipal elections were held only in the West Bank.
"For elections to happen in both Gaza and the West Bank needs the approval of both Fatah and Hamas," Barahmeh said.
Hamas, labelled a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union, said before the elections were delayed it would not submit candidates itself, instead supporting lists of hopefuls not officially linked to the movement.
Analysts said this was partially to avoid potential sanctions if they won.
Abbas, 81, has faced political pressure as opinion polls have suggested most Palestinians would like him to step down.
He strengthened his grip on power in December as Fatah held its first congress since 2009, with many Abbas opponents excluded from the elections for the party's central committee and parliament, known as the revolutionary council.