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ARABS-ISRAEL - Dec 21 - Israel Bans Jerusalem Palestinian Vote Over Hamas.

Israel says it will ban East Jerusalem Arabs from voting in a Palestinian election next month if militant Islamic group Hamas takes part - a move Palestinian officials said could delay the vote. Israel allowed Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote in Palestinian Authority elections in 1996 and at the start of the year when they elected Mahmoud Abbas president. But senior Israeli officials said Israel will not allow voting in Jerusalem for the Jan. 25 election because Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction and has spearheaded a suicide bombing campaign, is running for the first time. "It's like allowing al Qaeda to open a polling station in London," a senior Israeli official said. "This ... will allow a terrorist organisation ... to gain a majority or be able to participate in an election at the end of which it will work towards the destruction of Israel and carry out suicide attacks." Palestinian officials said the election may be delayed if Israel prevents voting by East Jerusalem residents. "We cannot hold elections anywhere if the Palestinians in Jerusalem are not allowed to vote," said senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath. But he said any decision to postpone the election would be made by Abbas only if all factions agree to a delay. A Hamas spokesman said the group, which is expected to make a strong showing in the poll, demanded it be held on time. He would not specify whether that position would remain the same if East Jerusalem Palestinians could not vote. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem carry Israeli identity cards and can apply for citizenship but most choose not to, seeing themselves as the citizens of a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. PRESSURE FOR DELAY Abbas has repeatedly said he does not want to postpone the vote, but has been under pressure for a delay from some Palestinian officials due to a split in his ruling Fatah movement that has strengthened Hamas. Hamas's corruption-free reputation and extensive charity network mean its popularity is rising among Palestinians. Its strong showing in the first three rounds of municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, winning in several major cities including the Fatah stronghold of Nablus, has prompted concern about a Hamas victory in Israel and abroad. Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said on Wednesday that Palestinian leaders, Israelis and the international community were seeking a reason to postpone the election in order to prevent a possible Hamas win. It said Israel's policy on East Jerusalem might serve that purpose. Israel says all Palestinian political activity in East Jerusalem was banned under the 1993 interim Oslo peace accords. Palestinians dispute this and say Jerusalem residents should play an active role in Palestinian affairs. Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move not recognised internationally. It sees the eastern part of the holy city as part of its "eternal and indivisible capital".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Dec 24, 2005
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