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By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Mahmoud Abbas's term as Palestinian president will be extended by the supreme body of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) when it meets in December, senior PLO officials said Tuesday.
Abbas, the Western-backed leader committed to negotiating peace with Israel, will stay in office, they said.
Though Abbas has said he does not want to run again for the presidency, several members of the PLO Central Council interviewed by Reuters said the body would effectively extend his tenure to avoid a vacuum when it expires on January 25.
Following his November 5 announcement that he did not want to stand again for the presidency in elections he had called for January 24, the PLO urged Abbas to stay on.
However the debate over his candidacy was rendered largely irrelevant last week when the independent election commission advised him to postpone the vote. Cancellation of the election is now seen as a mere formality.
The commission told Abbas it could not organise presidential and legislative elections, mainly because they had been banned in advance by the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, which disputes Abbas's legitimacy.
So his threat not to stand will not arise.
NO DISSOLUTION OF PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
"The Central Council has only one solution and it is to entrust the president, as head of the PLO, with continuing as president of the Palestinian Authority until it is able to hold presidential and legislative elections," said Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior official in the Fatah movement, also led by Abbas.
His view was reflected by other members of the Central Council including representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestine Liberation Front.
Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, opposes any permanent peace deal with Israel, won the last legislative elections in 2006, gaining most seats in a parliament which has not convened since Hamas forced Fatah out of Gaza at gunpoint.
Parliament's term is also due to expire on January 25, presenting the PLO Central Council with another problem to discuss at its December 15 meeting. Its only certainty for now is that Hamas will oppose whatever it proposes.
"Any step by the PLO Central Council will be rejected by us. We will not respect it," said Mahmoud al-Ramahi, a Hamas lawmaker. "The term of the legislative council ends when a new council is elected."
(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Douglas Hamilton and Samia Nakhoul)