The Israeli army has been rounding up hundreds of mainly Islamist political activists throughout the West Bank, many of whom are viewed as actual or potential candidates for the elections.

"I have no doubt that Sharon is apprehensive about the very idea of allowing Palestinians to have elections," Ahmed Subh, the PA's official spokesman, said.

"He realises that democracy empowers our people, and he wants to keep us in a perpetual state of weakness so that he can impose on us the fait accompli."

However, Israeli government spokespersons deny that the arrests are meant to thwart the forthcoming elections.
 
"We don't arrest innocent people. These people are hostile to Israel and support Hamas," said Amira Oron, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokeswoman.

"They will be tried and imprisoned, and those proven innocent will be released."

Insidious designs

In an interview with Aljazeera.net, Subh accused Sharon of "harbouring insidious designs and ill will" towards the peace process.

Israeli troops carried out a wave
of arrests

"He wants to push the entire region into a cycle of violence and  counter-violence for the purpose of impeding or neutralising any meaningful international effort to restart the peace process," Subh said.

"He knows that reviving the peace process would exert pressure on him to carry out the terms of the road map, and he is not ready for that."
 
Asked if the arrest of hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders and activists could hamper the holding of Palestinian elections on time, Subh said Palestinians will not oblige Sharon.
 
"Of course, this is his desire, I have no doubt about that. But we will not play into his hands and enable him to fulfil his desire. We will hold the elections on time," he said.
 
Sharon and his foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, have threatened to disrupt or prevent the Palestinian parliamentary elections if Hamas participates.

"We will make every effort not to help them. I don't think they can have elections without our help," Sharon was quoted as saying in New York on 16 September.

Israeli raids

Meanwhile, the Israeli army on Wednesday raided several schools and charities affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic movement throughout the West Bank.

The Israeli army charged that the institutions had ties with "terror groups".
 
In Dura, 10km southwest of Hebron, Israeli soldiers reportedly stormed al-Siddik Islamic boarding school, smashing furniture and vandalising property.
 
Ahmed Qazzas, who teaches English at the school, told Aljazeera.net that soldiers confiscated all 25 computers in the computer class.
 
On Sunday, the Israeli air force bombed al-Arkam school in downtown Gaza, inflicting heavy damage and injuring 15 civilians living in nearby homes, including a 40-day-old baby.