On Friday, speakers in mosques throughout the largest town in the West Bank denounced the Palestinian Authority (PA) decision, describing it as "an expression of dictatorship and despotism".

"No to dictatorship, no to robbing the people of Hebron of their right to elect their representatives," shouted thousands of people, many carrying the green banners of the Islamic movement, as they marched through the streets.

On Sunday 13 November, the PA announced the postponement of the poll, saying Israel could not ensure unhindered voting.

According to the PA at the time, the Israeli occupation army, which controls the town of approximately 180,000 people, has not agreed to leave the area for the three days of the poll.

Israeli denial

However, Israel denies PA claims, saying the PA had not informed the Israeli authorities of its intention to organise elections in Hebron.

On Thursday, a prominent Fatah leader and former local government minister Jamal Shubaki claimed the decision to delay the elections was taken by Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Qureia.

Elections in the town were due
to take place on 15 December

"I accuse the Palestinian Authority of robbing the people of this town of their inherent right to choose their representatives through fair and transparent elections," said Aziz Dweik, in the rally outside Hebron's municipal council building in downtown Hebron.

"We reject dictatorship, we reject despotism, we reject authoritarianism."

The Al-Najah University academic accused Fatah, the de facto ruling party of the PA, of "tampering with the people's will".

"We will not allow a few hangers-on to tamper with the will of 180,000 people. This town belongs to its people, not to those who are concerned about their self-interests," said Dweik, alluding to the Fatah movement, which is widely believed to be standing behind the PA decision to postpone the elections.

Authoritarianism

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has also called on the town's residents to pressure the PA to force it to hold elections in Hebron.

"The PA claims to be democratic, but a democratic authority does not ignore the people's will and does not disregard the rule of law. The PA is ignoring the law by postponing the elections," said Abd al-Alim Daana, a PFLP representative in Hebron.

Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faces a
tough challenge from Hamas

He said the PFLP would cooperate and coordinate with all "freedom-lovers" in Hebron in order to see that "the people's voice is heard and the people's will is respected".

The local elections in Hebron were due to take place on 15 December.

The city is seen as a central stronghold of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and some argue that the PA and Fatah fear the outcome of the elections, concerned that a decisive Hamas victory in Hebron would augur badly for Fatah's chances in the legislative elections, scheduled for 25 January.

Fatah primaries

Meanwhile, Fatah is due to begin a series of internal primary elections this week throughout the occupied territories in order to choose the movement's candidates for the parliamentary election.

The primaries are expected to be marred by an inter-generational power struggle between the old guard and junior Fatah activists at the grassroots and intermediate levels.

Fatah leaders hope that a compromise will be reached, suggesting that a crisis within the movement could result in another postponement of the elections.