RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that elections won't be held by September as planned if the Gaza Strip's Hamas rulers won't allow balloting there.
Abbas' West Bank-based government called the long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections over the weekend, but the rival Islamic Hamas has said Gaza will not take part in the vote.
"Unless we are capable of holding elections in both the West Bank and Gaza, then we will not hold elections," Abbas told reporters in Ramallah on Thursday.
Abbas governs the West Bank but lost control of Gaza to Hamas in a violent 2007 takeover. Several attempts to reconcile the two factions have failed.
Abbas aides said the Palestinian president had not backed down on his commitment to the vote. Senior adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo said that if necessary, the Palestinian Authority would find a "creative" way to circumvent any Hamas opposition so Gazans would be able to take part. Measures being explored include voting by Internet, Palestinian officials have said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri disputed Abbas' sincerity in calling for elections.
"This confusion of the Palestinian Authority reflects the internal crisis it is going through and shows their call for elections is not an honest one," he said.
The scheduling of the long-overdue vote was seen as a response to widespread Mideast protests against autocratic regimes that have toppled longtime dictators in Tunisia and Egypt.
Abbas and President Barack Obama spoke by telephone for 50 minutes on Thursday, said Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Aburdeneh. He said they discussed the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and the Palestinian-backed proposed resolution in the U.N. Security Council declaring Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said Obama is looking for a compromise to avert an American veto of the resolution.
The Palestinian Authority has not held elections since 2006, leaving Abbas and members of parliament in office after their elected terms ended.
Abbas' four-year term expired in 2009, though it has been extended indefinitely. The parliament's term expired in 2010, but the legislature remains in office, although its work is hindered by the split between the territories.