Palestinian election may be delayed
Palestinian officials say they will cancel the parliamentary election if Israel proceeds with a threat to ban people from voting in East Jerusalem.
An official in Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon's office said on Wednesday that Israel will not allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to cast ballots in the Jan. 25 poll.
The official, Raanan Gissin, said Israel objects to the participation of Hamas, a militant group sworn to destroy Israel. Hamas has been behind dozens of suicide attacks against Israelis.
Hamas is running in a parliamentary election for the first time.
- INDEPTH: Hamas
Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Shaath said officials would be forced to call off the election if the Israelis don't back down.
"If the Israelis insist on not allowing us to conduct the elections in Jerusalem, then there will be no elections at all," Shaath told the Associated Press.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas denounced Israel's decision but said he needed some time to "study" the issue before deciding whether to delay the vote.
A Hamas representative demanded that Abbas hold the election as scheduled.
East Jerusalem has great symbolic importance to Palestinians, who hope to establish it as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem after it captured it in the Six-Day War in 1967.
- INDEPTH: Israel and the Palestinians
Israel allowed Palestinian residents there to vote in a Palestinian Authority election in 1996 and in the poll that elected Abbas in early 2005
Abbas under pressure to delay vote
Abbas has already postponed the election once, from July 17, because it overlapped with when Israel planned to be pulling troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian leader has been under increasing domestic and international pressure to delay the election a second time because of fears of a strong showing by Hamas.
His ruling Fatah party has lost voters because of internal disputes between young activists and an old guard associated with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
As well, many Palestinians blame Fatah for government corruption and have grown frustrated with the party's inability to curb lawlessness in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas, on the other hand, has won support for its charity programs and its reputation for being free of corruption, as well as its opposition to Israel.
The militant group has been climbing in the polls and recently won local elections in several West Bank cities, including the Fatah stronghold of Nablus.