Israeli soldiers prepare riot equipment at a military base on the outskirts of the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif.
Nicolas Asfouri  /  AFP - Getty Images
Israeli soldiers prepare their riot equipment at a temporary military base on the outskirts of the Jewish settlement of Gush Katif in Gaza.
updated 8/9/2005 5:00:09 PM ET 2005-08-09T21:00:09

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday warned that attacks by Palestinians during Israel's upcoming pullout from Gaza would harm Palestinian chances for independence, but he also promised to hold long-delayed parliamentary elections in January as a gesture to the militants.

With the Israeli pullout set to begin next week, Abbas told his parliament that Palestinian behavior will determine how the world perceives their ability to run their own affairs. Violent groups like Hamas want to show they are driving the Israelis out by force, but Abbas wants a smooth handover.

Later Tuesday, Israeli and Palestinian officials reached agreement on the disposal of rubble from the Jewish settlements that will be destroyed — a crucial point of coordination. Abbas was to announce on Wednesday whether he accepts the agreement.

Israeli and Palestinian officials working to coordinate the withdrawal agreed that Israel will take in dangerous rubble, including asbestos, while the Palestinians will remove the rest. Israel is to fund the Palestinian part, but the World Bank will administer the money.

Palestinian elections first set for mid-July
Abbas did not set an exact date in January for elections. Hamas, which is entering candidates for the first time, has harshly criticized Abbas' decision to postpone the vote, originally set for July 17.

Abbas was meeting Hamas leaders late Tuesday to discuss the new election schedule. Hamas is expected to do well against Abbas' Fatah party after scoring impressive victories in three rounds of local elections in recent months.

Elections are a cornerstone of reforms Abbas is promoting at the insistence of his own people, tired of years of corruption. International donors also welcome elections, but there is also concern they could bring Hamas to power.

The Palestinian parliament has been serving since it was first elected in 1996.

Abbas' first concern in a comprehensive speech to a session of parliament in Gaza City on Tuesday was easing the way for Israel to exit Gaza. Israel plans to remove all 21 settlements, with about 8,500 residents, beginning Aug. 15, and has warned that if there are Palestinian attacks, it will hit back hard.

"There is a requirement to ensure the withdrawal takes place in a civilized manner," Abbas said. "We will be able to show the world we deserve independence and freedom."

Abbas warned against looting after the withdrawal, saying the land on which the settlements were built belongs to all Palestinians.

Abbas: ‘The road is still long ahead’
He also cautioned against excessive celebrations because the pullout falls far short of the Palestinian goal of full independence in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

"The Israelis are still occupying our land. The road is still long ahead," he said.

He used especially tough language against militants, who have continued to fire rockets and carry out other attacks despite a six-month cease-fire with Israel.

Abbas said the rocket attacks have only brought misery to the Palestinians — either by inadvertently hitting Palestinians or by prompting tough Israeli reprisals. He said he expects militants to give up their weapons after the Israeli withdrawal.

"The presence of the gunmen in the streets must end. The Palestinian Authority must be the only authority," he said. "I don't think any country accepts more than one authority, more than one gun."

Even as Abbas spoke, hundreds of gunmen affiliated with his Fatah movement demonstrated outside the building. The militants demanded the dismissal of the Palestinian finance minister, who has tightened control over spending, and assurances of jobs and safety after the withdrawal.

The protest ended without incident, but reflected the continuing lawlessness. On Monday, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped two international aid workers and their Palestinian driver. The hostages were freed after a shootout with Palestinian security forces.

Israel beginning disengagement plan
On Tuesday, Israel took a step toward preparing for the removal of four small West Bank settlements as part of the "disengagement" plan, closing part of the northern West Bank to Israeli civilians to keep opponents of the withdrawal out of the area. The military said the order includes a main checkpoint and two of the four settlements slated for evacuation.

The army said the decision came in response to plans by hard-liners to hold a large demonstration in the area, and there was no decision on how long the closure would last. It already has turned Gaza into a closed military zone, barring nonresidents from entering.

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