The White House and British Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for calling early elections, as a gun battle early Sunday near the president's home and office increased fears of civil war.


A supporter of Hamas holds a sign Saturday in Gaza City showing Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh during a rally in opposition to the speech of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. ((Hatem Moussa/Associated Press) )

Dozens of unidentified gunmen attacked a training base of Abbas's presidential guardin Gaza City. One guard was killed and three were wounded in the fierce, early-morning battle, a guard statement said.

Abbas was in the West Bank town of Ramallah at the time of the attack.

The latestclash came less than 24 hours after Abbasannouncedhewould call presidential and parliamentary elections at the earliest possible date in a move to end his violent standoff with Hamas.

His supporters cheered and applauded as hemade the announcement in a major policy speech at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.

An aide to Abbas said the date for early elections would be set within a week and avote would be held within three months.

White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamospoke positively ofthe proposal.

"While the elections are an internal matter, we hope this helps bring the violence to an end and the formation of a Palestinian Authority committed to the Quartet principles," she said, in referrence to the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators— the United States, the UN, the EU and Russia.

Blair, who wastravelling in the Middle East Saturday, urged the international community to support Abbas.

Hamas slams move as 'coup attempt'

Abbas said he can legallycallearly elections by issuing a presidential decree.

However, Hamas,which formed the government after elections early in theyear, has maintained thatwhat the Fatah leader istrying to doamounts to a coup attempt.

"We reject this call and we consider it illegal," said Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri.

Abbas, frustrated after months of failed coalition talks with Hamas,said he wants the Palestinian people to "be the judge," adding that the currentfinancial and security instability cannot continue.

The Fatah leader had hoped that unity talks would ease Western sanctions imposed because ofthe refusal by Hamas to recognize Israel and renounce violence.

"Gaza is free of occupation, but there are no investors and no prosperity," Abbas told hundreds of supporters on Saturday."We dreamed that [Gaza] would prosper and dozens of investors from all over the world came to Gaza. Nothing has come to fruition.

"We decided it was better to fire rockets. Israel left, said goodbye, and instead of [Gaza] remaining calm and flourishing, there are those that still prefer to fire rockets," he said,referring to thefiring of Kassam rockets into Israel.

Tension between supporters of Abbas and Hamas has mounted since unidentified gunmen shot dead three children, sons of a senior Palestinian security officer, as they arrived at school on Monday.

With files from the Associated Press