Palestinian election campaign begins as Hamas insists vote must be held on schedule
JERUSALEM – Palestinian candidates held a parade led by an actor in a Mickey Mouse costume, sang about the return of Islam and plastered the streets of the West Bank and Gaza with political posters as they kicked off their election campaign Tuesday.Leaders of the Islamic militant Hamas group insisted the parliamentary vote must take place Jan. 25 despite an Israeli ban on voting in Jerusalem, shooting down Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ suggestion that it be delayed.”Postponing the election will lead to a vacuum and to a dark future,” Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas candidate, told reporters in Gaza. “Postponing the election is not the solution.”Abbas, whose Fatah Party is roiled by infighting, accusations of corruption and fears of an electoral drubbing, said Monday the vote could be delayed if Israel carries out its threat to bar Palestinians from voting in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state.Israel says interim peace accords forbid Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem, which Israel also claims as its capital. In a compromise used during the 1996 parliamentary election and in presidential elections last year, east Jerusalem’s Palestinians voted by absentee ballot in post offices.But this election will mark the first time that Hamas – which calls for Israel’s destruction and is responsible for dozens of deadly suicide bombings – will field candidates. Israel has called for the Islamic group to be disqualified.The head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, told a closed meeting of parliament’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that a strong Hamas showing would spell “deep trouble” for Israel, parliament spokesman Giora Pordes said.An Israeli ban on Jerusalem voting would give Abbas a pretext to again delay the vote, originally scheduled for July. Israeli officials say they don’t want to be blamed for a postponement and are looking for a compromise. U.S. envoys were to discuss the issue with Israeli officials this week.Mohammed Abu Teir, No. 2 on the Hamas slate, said the election should go ahead even if Jerusalem residents must go to the West Bank to vote.”I’d prefer to vote anywhere in the suburbs of Jerusalem rather than vote under the Israeli presence in the post offices,” he said. It was the first time Hamas raised such an option.In violence, Palestinian militants fired a rocket from Gaza into the Israeli town of Sderot Tuesday, hitting a gas station and causing light damage but no casualties. Israel responded with artillery barrages at the open areas where the rocket was launched, the military and witnesses said.The controversy over Jerusalem erupted the moment the campaign started Tuesday morning, when Israeli police scuffled with Palestinian candidates seeking votes in the plaza outside the Damascus Gate leading into Jerusalem’s walled Old City. Eight Fatah candidates were arrested.”We will have elections in Jerusalem and you will not be able to stop us,” shouted Fatah candidate Ahmed Ghneim.Police also briefly detained independent candidate Mustafa Barghouti and struggled to take a campaign banner away from Hanan Ashrawi, another independent candidate, as they campaigned outside Damascus Gate.”Any Palestinian activity in Jerusalem is forbidden,” police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.Other election activities Tuesday went more smoothly, as political parties put up posters on walls and hung banners from electrical wires in Palestinian towns across the West Bank and Gaza. “Islam is the solution,” read one Hamas sign.Hamas candidates and about 200 supporters marched to a cemetery in the West Bank city of Nablus to pay their respects at the graves of three Hamas leaders killed in fighting with Israel.”We ask all Palestinians to join us to create an Islamic state. The Islamic state is on the rise,” said Sheik Hamed Bitawi, a Hamas candidate.They then marched to the center of town, unfurled a giant Palestinian flag and the green flag of Hamas and sang: “Islam has returned, Islam is here.”Ahmed Saadat, who heads the list for the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, launched his campaign with a news conference in a Palestinian prison in the West Bank town of Jericho. Saadat is being held in connection with the PFLP’s assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister in 2001.In Gaza City, actors dressed as cartoon characters, including Mickey Mouse and a bunny, led a children’s parade for independent candidate Marwan Kanafani, in an attention-grabbing ploy. PFLP candidates shook hands with merchants and distributed campaign pamphlets.Fatah postponed the start of its Gaza campaign by a day after two Islamic Jihad militants were killed by an Israeli airstrike Monday. The continuing violence with Israel and the chaos caused by armed gangs also have called into question the possibility of holding orderly elections.The head of the Fatah campaign, Information Minister Nabil Shaath, said he expected the party to win 70 percent of the 132 parliament seats. Abu Teir said his Hamas group would win up to 40 percent of the seats.Recent polls showed Fatah getting 43 percent of the seats to Hamas’ 25 percent.–Associated Press writers Ali Daraghmeh in Nablus and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.Vail, Colorado
Support Local Journalism
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User