RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 17 (Reuters) - The Palestinian Authority
announced on Tuesday it was postponing local elections scheduled for July until October, giving time to organize the vote in the Gaza Strip, now under control of Hamas
The delay had been expected following a surprise unity deal
in April between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
movement, which rules the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist group which has controlled Gaza since 2007.Ghassan Khatib
, spokesman for the Ramallah-based Palestinian administration, said delaying the vote until October 22 would allow time for the body which oversees Palestinian elections to organize voting in the Gaza Strip.
The delay means the election will be held after September, when Abbas has said he will ask the United Nations General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state.
The last time Palestinians voted was 2006, when Hamas won legislative elections, leading to a deep split in the Palestinian national movement and the eventual establishment of rival governments in Gaza and Ramallah.
The local elections will give an indication of the popularity of Fateh and Hamas ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections, which the unity deal brokered by Egypt calls for within a year.
Representatives of Fateh and Hamas are holding talks this week in Cairo aimed at agreeing on a government of technocrats to run Palestinian affairs in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip until the new elections are held.
The rival groups have agreed that the government will not include any members of either Fateh or Hamas, a group which is hostile to Israel and whose security forces will continue to control the Gaza Strip.
Municipal elections had been scheduled for the West Bank in 2010 but they were postponed after Fatah failed to agree on a list of candidates.
(Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Peter Graff)