A series of decrees issued by Mahmoud Abbas has raised hopes that Palestinians will get to vote in their first elections in 15 years this spring. On Monday, the Palestinian president (pictured) released a decree establishing an elections court which, it is planned, will arbitrate disputes between Abbas’ Fatah party, its arch-rival Hamas and others competing in the vote. In January, Abbas announced legislative elections on 22 May with a presidential poll scheduled for July. But the president – who was elected to a four-year term in 2005 – has issued elections decrees on previous occasions only to then postpone or cancel them. Hamas had demanded the establishment of an independent elections court, fearing that Abbas might attempt to manipulate other institutions into changing results should Fatah lose. The court will include representatives from both the West Bank and Gaza, where Hamas staged a violent coup in 2007 and seized power illegally. It will be headed by the respected Palestinian jurist Iman Nasr al-Din. The court decree followed an order issued two weeks ago by Abbas which sought to strengthen freedom of expression protections during the election period. It bans police pursuits and detentions in both the West Bank and Gaza for “reasons related to freedom of expression and political affiliation”. Hamas fears its activists will be targeted by the West Bank police while Fatah believes the terror group will not allow free campaigning by its supporters in Gaza. Wider Palestinian “reconciliation” talks between Hamas, Fatah and other groups will resume in Cairo this month.