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Arafat: No Elections Until Israeli Army Leaves Palestinian Territory - 2002-05-17

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said there will be no general elections in the Palestinian territories until the Israeli military occupation is ended. Other Palestinian officials said they hope elections will be held within the next six months.

Mr. Arafat told reporters in Ramallah that elections will be held when Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territories, according to an agreement that was supposed to have been implemented in 1999.

That was the year Israel and the Palestinians were to have reached a final peace accord.

Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath told The Associated Press the goal is still to hold elections within six months. Mr. Shaath said, however, Israeli troops must first withdraw to positions held before September 2000, when the current uprising against Israeli occupation began.

Palestinian lawmakers are urging Mr. Arafat to authorize a vote by early next year as part of a package of proposals designed to reform the Palestinian Authority.

Earlier this week, in a speech to Palestinian legislators, Mr. Arafat proposed "speedy preparations" for new elections, but did not set a date or provide details.

The Palestinian leader has been under international and local pressure to reform the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made such reforms a condition for restarting peace talks.

Meanwhile, Israeli tanks and troops entered the Jenin refugee camp before dawn to arrest suspected militants who eluded capture during fierce fighting there last month.

The assault sparked sporadic gunfire in what the army referred to as a pinpoint operation. The military says 20 Palestinians were arrested during the raid.

In the refugee camp, soldiers surrounded the house of a wanted member of the militant Hamas group, Jamal Abu al-Haija, and ordered him to come out. His wife and children left the house, but the Hamas member was not home. Witnesses said soldiers then set the empty house on fire.

After several hours the soldiers withdrew. No casualties were reported.

The Jenin refugee camp was the scene of heavy fighting during a six-week Israeli military offensive in the West Bank that ended last week.

The operation was launched after a series of Palestinian suicide bombings killed dozens of Israelis.

In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army shot and killed a Palestinian the military says was trying to infiltrate the Jewish settlement of Dugit. The army says the man threw grenades at soldiers and fired an automatic rifle before being killed.