Ramallah: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday he would call for elections in 2009 if his secular Fatah movement and its Islamist rivals Hamas do not reconcile by the end of this year.
"If the dialogue does not begin, and if we fail, I will issue a presidential decree early next year calling for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections," Abbas told members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
He did not name a date. Elections could be held 90 days after his decree, but there was no hint of when that might be.
Hamas quickly rejected Abbas's statement. "It is an illegal and unconstitutional call," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. Calling for elections "confirms his absolute intentions to foil the dialogue".
Abbas said Egypt had drafted a reconciliation deal calling for a non-factional government to end the Hamas-Fatah split and prepare for polls. But Hamas walked away from scheduled talks in Cairo before they began.
In Occupied Jerusalem, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak hinted that he might send troops into Gaza to rescue a soldier who has been held captive there for more than two years. Sergeant Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas in June 2006.