Israel said it will ban Palestinians living in occupied east Jerusalem from voting in the January 25 parliamentary elections, citing concerns that the Palestinian resistance group HAMAS may gain power, AFP reported.
"We will not allow there to be any polling booths in Jerusalem for the Palestinian elections," an official in Prime Minister ARIEL SHARON's office said on condition of anonymity.
Under pressure from the United States, Israel reluctantly allowed Palestinians in east Jerusalem to vote in post offices in January’s presidential elections.
"In the past, we have allowed Palestinians to vote in post offices but not this time," the official said, adding: "We will not tolerate any political activity and we are also determined to prevent any attack against our sovereignty over our capital Jerusalem, especially as HAMAS is taking part in the election.”
Israeli officials have warned that the peace process will end if HAMAS becomes a dominant political party.
HAMAS, which is contesting the election for the first time, is expected to make a strong showing in next month’s election, after gaining the majority of votes in the West Bank’s municipal elections. The group would also benefit from current divisions inside Palestinian President MAHMOUD ABBAS’ Fatah party.
The upcoming election will be the second since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1995.
Israel seized and then annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war, but the international community still considers the area, home to almost 200,000 Palestinians, as occupied territory.
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath condemned the Israeli decision, and said that the Palestinian Authority will cancel the election if Israel doesn’t reverse its decision.
The chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat also accused Israel of trying to sabotage the whole election. "This is clear evidence that they are trying to destroy the election in general so they can say they have no Palestinian partner" in the peace process, he said, according to AFP.
Erakat added that he sent an “urgent message” to the senior U.S. State Department envoy David Welch, demanding him to prevent "a disaster for the Palestinian people and the region in general."
- Israel kills top Hamas leader
Israeli occupation forces shot dead a local HAMAS chief in the West Bank city of Jenin, medics said, according to AFP.
Palestinian officials identified the victim as Zayed Mussa, 28.
The killing came after Israeli soldiers raided the northern West Bank city of Nablus. Reports say the soldiers opened fire at stone-throwing youths, wounding at least eight Palestinians.
In the nearby Balata refugee camp, two members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades resistance group were injured by Israeli gunfire.
Meanwhile, kidnappers released two foreign teachers, hours after they were abducted in northern Gaza.
Hendrik Taatgen, the Dutch principal of a private American school, and Australian assistant, Brian Ambrosio were immediately taken to the Gaza City headquarters of the Palestinian Authority after their release, security sources said.