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Palestinian leader confirms January 25 elections

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Israel
Mahmoud Abbas
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West Bank

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(CNN) -- Speaking in Gaza City, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas confirmed Saturday that Palestinian legislative elections will be held January 25.

The elections were initially set for July, but Abbas postponed them, wanting to have them after Israel evacuated all Gaza settlements and four settlements in the West Bank.

The evacuations, which began Wednesday, had been expected to last up to three weeks. But Israeli officials said this week that, at their current pace, evacuations could be completed by Monday or Tuesday.

Hamas, which is the most potent political group opposing Abbas, has accused the president and his Fatah movement of delaying the elections in order to bolster support. Earlier this year, Hamas defeated Fatah in some local elections in Gaza.

Hamas has a military wing that has carried out attacks on civilians. Hamas also operates an extensive social services network in the Palestinian territories. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

Palestinian Cabinet member and chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN earlier this month that he did not believe Hamas and other radical groups could take over Gaza.

"I believe Palestinians have chosen a way of democracy -- ballots, not bullets -- and we want to differentiate to everyone between the two," Erakat said.

"Every effort will be exerted to seize the opportunity of Gaza disengagement in order to revive hope in the Palestinians that the peace process will continue. We'll get our freedom and independence through negotiations, peaceful means -- void of violence."

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