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Palestinian leaders are examining ways to form a united national leadership and a national unity cabinet after the January 9 chairman elections, Mahmoud Abbas told Palestinian TV on Thursday.

A restrained committee composed of representatives of all Palestinian factions has been formed in a bid to reach a compromise over the matter, the PLO chief said.

Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior PA official said on Thursday that the positions of PLO chairman and PA chairman, currently held by Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia, would be united and held by one person after the elections.

Abdel Rahim said Abbas will run as the Fatah candidate in elections in strength of him being the PLO Chairman.

On Wednesday Abbas vowed a crackdown on Palestinian groups operating in Palestinian areas in order to smooth the way to January's elections.

Hamas opposes regional voting method in parliament electionsHamas is demanding that Mahmoud Abbas alter the voting method used in the Palestinian Authority for elections to the Palestinian parliament.

Palestinian sources said Thursday that Hamas representatives are putting forth the demand after Abbas rejected their calls to hold parliamentary and local elections at the same time as elections for PA chairmanship. Abbas had said that that doing so was technically impossible, and said that parliamentary elections would be held in the middle of 2005.

The regional voting method, used in the 1996 elections, divided the Gaza Strip and West Bank into sixteen voting regions, each of which had a specified number of parliamentary seats. Hamas is requesting that the West Bank and Gaza Strip constitute one voting district, so that the the support the movement gained throughout the intifada be reflected on the parliamentary level.

5 Palestinian factions to field joint candidate for PA chairFive Palestinian factions, including two radical groups, have agreed to field a joint candidate in the January 9 election to replace the late Yasser Arafat as Palestinian Authority chairman, an official said Thursday.

Two of the groups, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, boycotted the previous Palestinian election in 1996.

Both factions rejected Arafat's interim peace deals with Israel.

The factions, which also include the Struggle Front, People's Party and Democratic Federation (FIDA) - all of them small groups - agreed in recent meetings in Gaza to run a joint candidate, but have yet to select one.

On Tuesday, Abdel-Sattar Qassem, a longtime critic of Arafat, and Talal Seder al-Ayyoubi, one of Arafat's loyalists, became the first to announce their candidacy in the January poll.

Al-Ayyoubi was once Yasser Arafat's Sports Minister and more recently served as his adviser on religious affairs.

Both are little known to ordinary Palestinians and lack party affiliations, making them long-shot challengers to Abbas, the moderate former prime minister and new Palestine Liberation Organization leader who is expected to run as the Fatah candidate.

Abbas vowed Wednesday that he would take steps to halt the use of illegal weapons in Palestinian areas and ensure calm and an end to chaos ahead of the election.

Rabah Muhana, a PFLP leader, told Reuters the five groups would continue discussions with Abbas and urge him to set a date for a parliamentary election.

Abbas has been holding a series of meetings with Palestinian factions, including Islamic military groups, in the wake of Arafat's death on November 11.

"We also will meet the temporary president of the Palestinian Authority, Rouhi Fattouh, and urge him to issue a presidential decree setting a date for parliamentary elections," Muhana said.

Lawmakers have said they expect a parliamentary ballot, last held in 1996, to be scheduled for next year, possibly in the spring.