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Thousands In West Bank Urge Abbas To Stay

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) -- Supporters of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have turned out in the West Bank to urge him to run again for the presidency following his announcement that he did not want a second term in the job.

Waving flags, they greeted the president on November 8 as he conducted a rare tour of towns in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, part of the territories where the Palestinians aim to establish a state.

The Fatah movement, which Abbas heads, had called for participation in the show of support.

"We need you," Hebron governor Hussein al-Araj told Abbas during a reception at which supporters urged him not to quit. In a short address, Abbas did not respond to their calls.

Neither did he mention his future in any of a series of addresses he gave during the tour.

The scenes were broadcast live on official Palestine television, which has been airing pro-Abbas programs, songs and poetry since his declaration on November 5 that he did not want to run in the election he recently scheduled for January 24.

Many analysts believe his announcement could be a tactic to prompt the United States to put more pressure on Israel to halt all West Bank settlement building -- a step demanded by Abbas for the resumption of peace talks.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, himself a settler heading an ultra-nationalist party, said he did not take Abbas's threat seriously. But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated that Abbas's announcement was a not a tactic.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, a Nobel peace laureate for his role in the first Israeli-Palestinian interim accord in 1993, urged Abbas to stay on. He was speaking at a candlelit memorial for assassinated Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin.

'They Do Not Want Peace'

Abbas has built his political career around negotiating a peace deal with Israel. He voiced disappointment in his speech last Thursday with what he described as the United States "favoring" Israel in arguments over re-launching peace talks.

Addressing a small crowd outside the presidential palace in Bethlehem, Abbas said Israel had done nothing to promote peace.

"It appears they do not want peace, and they don't want to stop settlement, and they don't want the vision of two-states, so I don't know what they want," he said.

"We must remain believers in peace," he added, speaking in a carpark which still bears the track marks of Israel tanks stationed there during the Intifada, or uprising, which swept the Palestinian territories in 2000.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which Abbas also heads, has rejected his announcement, urging him to stay on.

Given his position as head of the PLO, Abbas is seen remaining a central figure in any peace talks.

Abbas, 74, replaced the late Yasser Arafat as president five years ago. His call for presidential and legislative elections has been rejected by the Islamist group Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and contests his legitimacy.

Hamas defeated Abbas's Fatah movement in the last Palestinian parliamentary elections, held in 2006.

Given Hamas's decision to ban the coming elections in the Gaza Strip, many analysts doubt whether the poll will go ahead at all, and if it did it would lack legitimacy, they say.