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Palestinians Begin Election Campaign but Vote Uncertain


Campaigning has begun for Palestinian legislative elections scheduled for January 25. There are growing concerns the January vote will be postponed following comments from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Campaigning for the 132 seats in the Palestinian legislative council began across the Palestinian territories, but comments from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have raised new doubts about whether the election will take place as scheduled.

In his first public comments on the election timetable Mr. Abbas said holding the vote would be impossible if Israel bars East Jerusalem Arabs from participating.

Mr. Abbas says all Palestinian factions agree that East Jerusalem residents should be part of the election and all Palestinian factions agree that if East Jerusalem residents are prohibited from voting there will be no elections.

In December, senior Israeli officials said they will not allow Arabs living in East Jerusalem to vote, because the Islamic militant group Hamas is participating. But Israeli officials have said their decision is not yet final.

Hamas has called for Israel's destruction and the group is listed as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union. The Jerusalem Post newspaper reports Israeli officials will make their decision about whether to allow East Jerusalem Arabs to vote following talks with two senior U.S. envoys this week.

In recent weeks, Hamas candidates have outpolled mainstream Fatah candidates in municipal elections. Recent public opinion surveys indicate Hamas could get nearly 50 percent of the vote on January 25.

Sami Abu Zuhre, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza said Hamas wants the vote to take place.

Mr. Abu Zuhre says all Palestinians know there is a crisis in their government and the election is a good way to solve the crisis. Any delay he says will only make the crisis worse.

Hamas' chances have been boosted in part by a split within the ruling Fatah party between younger party activists and the so-called old guard who are close associates of deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and President Abbas. Last week, Fatah factions agreed to submit a unified party list in the elections, but public statements by many party members point to remaining tensions within Fatah.

Senior Palestinian security officials have also said they will have trouble providing security for the elections, especially in the Gaza Strip which has been wracked by violence in recent days.

Hundreds of policemen have occupied government buildings in Gaza to protest the death of one of their colleagues in factional violence. A senior police official says many police have now joined various armed gangs contributing to the violence.

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