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Cites Israeli Ban on Voting in East Jerusalem as Excuse

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The Palestinian Authority will cancel the January 25 parliamentary elections if Israel goes ahead with its plan to bar east Jerusalem Arabs from voting by mail, a senior Palestinian official warned on Wednesday.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has been under pressure from his Fatah faction to postpone the vote, due to the growing popularity of rival Hamas. Abbas may have found a convenient pretext for canceling the ballot, but PA officials denied that was their motive in warning of a postponement.

Two senior Israeli government officials said Wednesday that Israel would not let Palestinians vote in Jerusalem because it objects to Hamas' participation in the race. Hamas, which is committed to Israel's destruction, is running for the first time in parliamentary elections, and poses a strong challenge to Fatah.

"Our role is not to help Hamas get elected - certainly not in sovereign Jerusalem," "There will be no voting in sovereign Jerusalem," said one Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"If the Israelis will not allow us to do elections in east Jerusalem ... it means the Israelis will sabotage the elections," responded Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Voting in Jerusalem is of great symbolic importance for Israel and the Palestinians, as both stake a claim to eastern Jerusalem. Based on the interim Oslo accords, Arab residents of east Jerusalem voted in previous PA elections by mailing ballots from local post offices, but Israel may not allow it this time because the Palestinians have failed to keep their Oslo commitment to bar groups that seek to achieve goals by non-democratic means from participating in elections.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Wednesday that the group wanted the election held as scheduled, and was counting on Abbas to keep his promise to honor the date.

Visiting Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman told Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz in a meeting on Wednesday that Egypt wants to see the PA elections held on time as well.

Earlier this year, Israel failed in its campaign to enlist international support for keeping Hamas out of the balloting. But the EU and the US have recently cautioned that the PA risks losing foreign aid because of Hamas' participation.


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