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By Mohammed Assadi
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he would not seek re-election in a vote planned for January, citing stalemate in peace talks with Israel, but Palestinian officials urged him to change his mind.
Amid speculation that this effective resignation offer -- by no means Abbas's first -- was largely a negotiating tactic aimed at rallying Western and Arab support against Israel's refusal to halt West Bank settlement expansion, the president was to speak later Thursday to explain his decision, one official said.
The Western-backed Palestinian leader announced his plans at a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the occupied West Bank.
"The president insists on not running in the upcoming election," an official who attended the meeting told Reuters.
But senior Abbas aide Yasser Abed Rabo said the committee's members were still trying to persuade him to run.
Abbas had called for the January election last month after failing to reach a unity deal with rival Islamist group Hamas, which rejects any peace moves with Israel.
Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006 and wrested control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Abbas a year later. It has said it will not take part in parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for January 24 in the absence of a unity deal with Abbas' Fatah faction.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Abbas's decision whether or not to run was "internal Fatah business."
Abbas has rejected U.S. calls to resume peace negotiations with Israel, saying he was sticking by his demand that Israel first halt all settlement expansion under a 2003 U.S.-backed peace road map.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday, said Palestinians should enter peace talks first and resolve the settlement issue later.
Egypt also called Wednesday for a rapid start to final negotiations to settle the six-decade-old conflict.
Netanyahu has agreed to limit construction in settlements in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war, rather than a total freeze. He says Israel must accommodate the "natural growth" of Jewish families in the settlements.
Another Palestinian official said Abbas made his decision because of the, "stagnation in the peace process and the continuation of (Israeli) settlement activities."

Reuters