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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Palestinians Plan Election, Arafat to Run

JERICHO, West Bank -- The Palestinian Authority, under pressure from U.S. President George W. Bush to dump Yasser Arafat as its leader, announced Wednesday that presidential elections will be held in mid-January.

Plans for new elections and a major overhaul of Palestinian institutions were unveiled two days after Bush called on Palestinians to elect leaders "not compromised by terror" as a condition for creating a Palestinian state.

Cabinet member Nabil Shaath said Arafat would stand for re-election. Bush's dilemma is that polls show Arafat widely favored to win, meaning Palestinians are likely to give a fresh mandate to a leader whom Washington has effectively written off.

Arafat had brushed aside Bush's appeal for his people to replace him, but he appeared to be sending a message to Washington by pinning down the date for the first Palestinian elections since 1996.

"President Arafat officially declared today that the election of the president of the Palestinian Authority and the election of the Palestinian Legislative Council will be held in January 2003," Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told reporters in the West Bank city of Jericho.

Erekat said the balloting would take place sometime between Jan. 10 and 20. He said security services, finances and courts would be reformed under a 100-day plan.

In a long-awaited Middle East policy speech on Monday, Bush had called on the Palestinian Authority to carry out sweeping democratic changes and rid itself of corruption.

Jericho was chosen as the site for the election announcement because it is the only Palestinian-ruled West Bank city that Israeli forces have not seized in the past week following back-to-back suicide bombings that killed 26 Israelis.

Israeli forces maintained a tight grip on seven other West Bank cities on Wednesday, keeping hundreds of thousands of Palestinians locked in their homes under curfew. Arafat's West Bank headquarters has been surrounded by tanks since Monday.

Erekat said it would be difficult to carry out elections and promised reforms if Israeli troops remained in place. "Elections cannot be carried out with tanks in every street. Voters cannot register while they are confined to their homes," he said.

The Israeli government voiced skepticism about the Palestinian plans.

"We've had a lot of words over the last eight years, very few of them have actually turned into practice," said Foreign Ministry official Daniel Taub. "At the moment we don't see anything that indicates that the current Palestinian leadership has ceased its support for terrorism."

Israel had welcomed Bush's Middle East policy speech on Monday as proof Washington had joined Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's drive to sideline Arafat.

But Palestinians expressed disappointment and a strong undercurrent of scorn ran through the Arab world.

A senior U.S. official said Wednesday that before deciding on his call for Arafat's removal, Bush received intelligence showing the Palestinian leader helped finance a group behind a series of suicide bombings in Israel.

Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdainah dismissed it as "Israeli propaganda."

The new allegation emerged at a Group of Eight summit in the Canadian resort of Kananaskis, where key U.S. allies have expressed little enthusiasm for pushing Arafat aside.

Asked about Bush's call for a new leadership, Arafat said Tuesday: "This is what my people will decide."

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States would respect the choice of the Palestinian people.