Mahmoud Abbas made his appeal on Tuesday as the main armed factions pledged to ensure that the second Palestinian general election passes off peacefully.

"The elections are a right for every citizen which should be exercised," Abbas told reporters after a meeting with Jimmy Carter, a former US president, who is overseeing the vote.

"The elections should honestly reflect the choice of every Palestinian citizen."

The main armed factions, including the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, loyal to Fatah, issued a joint statement in which they also called for all Palestinians to take part in the vote. 

"We call upon all our people, regardless of their preferences and political affiliations, to participate widely in this democratic festival.

"We assert that we will not allow any element to confiscate your right to vote and elect your representatives." 

Killing

Fast facts

  • 1.3 million registered, eligible voters
  • 1008 polling stations, 254 in Gaza, 754 in the West Bank 
  • Polling hours: 7am to 7pm (0500 GMT to 1700 GMT)
  • Exit polls expected 1 hour after voting ends
  • 132 parliamentary seats up for grabs, 66 by proportional representation and 66 by a first-past-the-post system in districts
  • 728 candidates competing, 414 in districts and 314 on party slates
  • 343 foreign and 17,268 local observers to monitor polls
  • 11 parties, the five main ones being: Fatah, Reform and Change (Hamas), Third Way, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Independent Palestine

Source: Palestinian Central Election Commission.

While foreign observers have been generally encouraged by the relative lack of violence in the lead up to Wednesday's poll, the overnight killing of a campaign worker for the ruling Fatah faction in the West Bank city of Nablus underlined the potential for serious problems on polling day. 

Ahmad Hassuna, 36, who was working on the campaign for Fatah's main candidate in Nablus, Ghassan al-Shakaa, was shot in the head in the early hours after confronting attackers who had opened fire on his house. 

Several of al-Shakaa's billboards have been sabotaged in recent days in the build-up to Wednesday's election.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops arrested nine suspected resistance fighters overnight, an army spokeswoman said. 

Israeli radio said four Islamic Jihad suspects who were also picked up and wanted in connection with attacks being planned in Israel, intended to disrupt Wednesday's Palestinian election. 

Islamic Jihad has ignored the elections.

Abu Adham, a Brigades leader, said the groups would support the police effort to guard polling stations but not carry weapons. 

However, the groups "will intervene if certain people violate the ban on carrying weapons", he said.

Abbas has issued orders for security forces to confront anyone who tries to disrupt the vote with an "iron fist".

Peaceful poll predicted

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister who oversaw last
January's successful presidential election, predicted that the voting would be peaceful. 

"I would expect that these elections will be even better than the presidential elections," he said.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and
Hamas have pledged non-violence

"What is important is the credibility of these elections and that all parties will accept the results, whatever they are." 

Security sources said 25 armed policemen would be posted inside each one of the 1008 polling stations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with members of other security services stationed outside the booths. The ballot boxes are due to be delivered on Tuesday afternoon.