Palestinian officials are pressuring President Mahmoud Abbas to delay a January election due to a split in his ruling Fatah faction that is strengthening its Hamas rival, officials said yesterday.

Lawmakers and senior members of Abbas's Fatah faction fear that violence may erupt if the rift within Fatah is not healed before the January 25 election in which Fatah will be challenged for the first time by the militant Islamic group Hamas.

"I call for delaying the election because of the deadlock in the peace process with the Israeli side and the state of chaos which Fatah is responsible for and the recent rift within Fatah," said lawmaker and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad.

He told Reuters that "Abbas must put his internal house in order" before elections are held.

The split in Fatah, in which some of its most popular younger leaders plan to run against the faction in the January ballot, has strengthened Hamas. It won in three out of four West Bank cities in the latest round of local elections on Thursday.

Rafiq Husseini, Abbas' chief of staff, said the Palestinian president was determined to hold the election as scheduled.

Hamas, eager to reap the benefits of the disarray in Fatah, has demanded that the election be held on time.

Western and Arab diplomats said the January polls were a critical test of Abbas' performance as a leader and a sign of his ability to convince Israel he was a peace partner.

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