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Ex-Gaza Security Chief Backs Abbas as Palestinian Leader

November 17, 2004|From Times Wire Services

GAZA CITY — Mohammed Dahlan, a Gaza Strip strongman once seen as a possible successor to the late Yasser Arafat, said Tuesday that he would not run in the Jan. 9 elections for Palestinian Authority president and instead endorsed the interim leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

Dahlan, a former Palestinian Authority security chief, still commands a strong following in the Gaza Strip. His support could boost Abbas' chances of maintaining order in what might be a turbulent transition period.

Dahlan's announcement came as Abbas met leaders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza City and urged them to halt violence during the run-up to the January vote.

Participants in the meeting said Abbas raised the question of halting attacks before the election but did not request a truce outright. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are behind suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis in the 4-year-old uprising against Israel.

"There was a general talk about the need for calm in the coming few months to enable the elections and the Israeli withdrawal," a senior Palestinian official said.

Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar told reporters before the meeting that a truce could not be considered until Israel stopped raids and assassinations in Palestinian areas.

"There are great challenges that require fundamental changes in the Palestinian reality," said Ismail Haniyeh, another Hamas official. A truce "is not an issue for discussion in Hamas right now."

Hamas wants parliamentary elections and a national unity leadership. The last elections were held in 1996.

Meanwhile Tuesday, France's foreign minister said his country had no intention of making Arafat's medical records public -- as Abbas had requested -- and would leave the decision about what to do with them to Arafat's family.

Arafat died at age 75 on Thursday in a hospital outside Paris where he had been taken for treatment Oct. 29 after his health deteriorated.

Neither Palestinian officials nor Arafat's French medical team has announced the cause of death.

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