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Gaza Pullout Proceeds; Abbas Sets Vote

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

As the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip enters its final phase, Palestinian leaders are now focused on reshaping the political landscape of their territory. Today, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set legislative elections for January 25th, a move that's expected to please rival group Hamas. NPR's Mike Shuster joins us from Jerusalem.

Mike, thanks for being with us.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And first, let's talk about the evacuation of settlements. Who has yet to leave Gaza? When is the deadline?

SHUSTER: Almost all the settlers and almost all of their outsiders that have come in to support them have gone from the Gaza Strip. There are four settlements left in the Gaza Strip to be evacuated. A couple of them do have hard-liners in them, some hundreds, and it might again prove difficult for the Israeli troops and police to do this. They start up again on Sunday. They expect maybe another two days in Gaza will clear the whole strip out of Jewish settlers. And then there are four small settlements in the northern part of the West Bank. Two are already empty, but two have also a fairly large contingent of hard-liners, and the Israeli police and army are expected to get to that around Tuesday.

SIMON: And after the withdrawal, is there a time table? Is there plan for the Palestinian Authority to move into these area?

SHUSTER: There is a plan, a loose plan. I don't think it's a very strict time table. What'll happen after this is that the Israeli army will still be in control of the Gaza land that the settlements are on. They're going to bulldoze the buildings and houses that are there. They've actually started doing that in some places. And then, the Palestinians have to come in and finish the demolition and cart away all the rubble. They're going to reclaim a lot of it. Some of it has to be buried. And then the Palestinian Authority faces the issue of what to do with this land. There's a lot of talk about at least letting some Palestinian citizens, many who may have had claims to that land before, to visit it. But it will be some time before the Palestinians actually make use of it.

SIMON: Why is Hamas so pleased by Mr. Abbas' announcement of the January 25th date for legislative elections?

SHUSTER: Well, there is a great deal of rivalry on the Palestinian side in Gaza about who is pre-eminent in Gaza, which is the strongest political force. And the truth is that Hamas in recent years has carried out a lot of the armed attacks on Israel and laid claim to leading the resistance against the Israelis, and now they want their due and they want to take part in elections because they believe that they can win them or at least win a substantial number of seats in the next Palestinian legislature. They've been clamoring for elections. The elections were put off. They originally where scheduled to be in July. Now they're going to be held on January 25th. And as far as Mahmoud Abbas is concerned about the upcoming elections and Hamas, there is concern in Gaza that Hamas will re-initiate armed attacks against the Israelis. Mahmoud Abbas doesn't want that to happen. And so there's a view in some circles that if it's--a specific day for elections is announced, this will give Hamas the opportunity to focus on that and not on continuing the armed resistance.

SIMON: NPR's Mike Shuster in Jerusalem. Thanks very much.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.