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Palestinian Primary Election Suspended

Voting began on Monday to pick candidates who will run on the Fatah party slate in parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on January 25. However from the minute the polls opened there were problems. Gunmen in Gaza stormed some polling stations forcing the vote to stop. Elsewhere numerous irregularities were reported. On Tuesday, Fatah party officials closed the polls citing widespread fraud.

Zacariah el-Agha, the head of Fatah's central election board told the Voice of Palestine Radio that party officials were evaluating what to do next.

Mr. el-Agha says it was irregularities that forced Fatah to close the polls, but senior party officials are meeting to determine when the primary can be rescheduled.

Last week, in Fatah primary voting in the West Bank, a number of veteran Fatah politicians lost to newcomers in a contest that is increasingly seen as a challenge to so-called "old guard" members of the party, many of whom are widely believed to be tainted by corruption.

Dimitri Delyane, a Fatah party activist from East Jerusalem, says Tuesday's suspension of the party vote will not help Fatah's credibility, especially with younger voters who he says want to bring real democracy to Palestinian political life.

"So this is going to have a negative effect on Fatah's performance," he said. "It is also going to have a negative effect amongst Fatah activists, and the leaders who have seen the primaries as hope for renewed democratic political life especially within Fatah. The canceling of this primary will make them lose hope. Obviously there is anger among the candidates.

Mr. Delyane says he believes the decision to postpone the primary will only benefit the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is expected to pose a strong challenge to Fatah in the January 25 elections.

"People who have been negatively affected by this decision, in addition to Fatah supporters who were disappointed by being prohibited from participating in the internal elections and primaries of Fatah, will most likely have negative reactions and that could benefit Hamas," added Mr. Delyane.

Hamas activists have repeatedly warned the ruling Fatah party not to postpone the January 25 elections. Recently Hamas also said it will not renew a year-long truce agreed to earlier this year between Israel and Palestinian groups. Since the cease-fire, there has been a dramatic de-escalation of violence in the region.