Israel could hinder voting in the occupied West Bank during a Palestinian legislative election in January if Hamas candidates take part, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Saturday, according to The New York Times.
"We will make every effort not to help (the Palestinians). I don't think they can have elections without our help," Sharon was quoted by The New York Times as telling journalists at a meeting in New York.
Sharon said Israel might not remove roadblocks in the West Bank, making it difficult for Palestinians there to vote, if Hamas run in the 25 January ballot, the newspaper reported.
Hamas made a strong showing in recent municipal elections and has said it will participate in the parliamentary poll for the first time.
Sharon made similar remarks on Wednesday during a briefing to reporters who travelled with him from Israel, but stopped short of mentioning specific steps that could disrupt the election.
"I announced as clearly as I could that we formally oppose Hamas participation in the election as long as it is not disarmed and has not cancelled the Hamas charter, which is a horrible document," Sharon said on Wednesday.
In that briefing, he said Israel could not interfere with the vote in the Gaza Strip, where it completed a troop pullout on Monday.
"But in other places, we will not cooperate on matters related to the election," he said on Wednesday, without giving details.
Sharon's threats were likely to cause deep concern within the Palestinian Authority, which is eager to demonstrate that it has embraced democracy on the road to statehood.
"We will make every effort not to help (the Palestinians). I don't think they can have elections without our help"
Israeli PM quoted by The New York Times
Hamas is widely expected to do well at the ballot box at the expense of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' mainstream Fatah group.
Sharon's tough line on the election coincides with his own political battle in Israel's Likud Party, where he faces a leadership challenge from right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu, who quit as finance minister in protest at the Gaza pullout.