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Israel Approves Palestinian Vote in Arab East Jerusalem, but Sets Condition

Israel will allow Palestinian voting in East Jerusalem, resolving a dispute that had put elections in doubt. A powerful Islamic militant group has been banned from the campaign.

Israel's Cabinet unanimously approved Arab voting in disputed East Jerusalem, clearing the way for Palestinian parliamentary elections on January 25.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its capital, and it had threatened to prevent Palestinians in the city from voting. But the Palestinian Authority warned it would postpone the election, if voting rights were not granted.

The U.S. sees the election as an important step toward Palestinian democracy and statehood, so it pressured Israel to soften its position.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the Cabinet that voting will be allowed on one condition. "Israel will not allow the Islamic militant group Hamas to participate in the Jerusalem vote," Olmert said.

Hamas has carried out dozens of deadly suicide bombings, and Israel says it is a terrorist organization. Israeli hawks are angry over the Cabinet decision.

Parliamentarian Yuri Stern says it strengthens Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. "It's a terrible decision, a wrong one, and it clearly shows that this government is accepting the division of the city," he said.

Palestinian officials welcomed the decision to allow the vote, but they condemned the exclusion of Hamas.

"Palestinian legislative elections on the 25th of January 2006 must take place, without any interference from Israel or anybody else," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told VOA.

Hamas is expected to make a strong showing in the elections, because many Palestinians are fed up with the government of President Mahmoud Abbas, which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective. But Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel. Israeli officials have warned that, if Hamas joins a Palestinian government, it would doom the peace process.