Voting right for East Jerusalem urged

Palestinian negotiations minister Saib Uraiqat has appealed to the international community to pressure Israel to allow Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote in the forthcoming Palestinian presidential elections.

    Israel wants to stop Palestinians in East Jerusalem from voting

    "The Oslo peace accords had specified that Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem be allowed to take part in elections," he said.

    "They did vote in the first and so far only elections in 1996.

    "The statement of the Israeli foreign minister to exclude the people of East Jerusalem from these elections is sowing the seeds of obstructionism," said Uraiqat.

    "We call on President Bush, the European Union and others to help us carry out presidential elections and not to allow the Israeli government to obstruct the natural growth of Palestinian democracy, peace and accountability."

    Israeli objection

    Uraiqat was responding to an earlier statement by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom opposing the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians in the polls.

    "Participation in the elections by the Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem would be problematic because Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel and that could have an influence on the final status of the town which is to be negotiated," Shalom said on public radio.

    Uraiqat: The US, EU and others
    should help us carry out elections

    Israel regards East Jerusalem, which it conquered and then annexed in 1967, as an integral part of the "undivided Jewish capital".

    However, the annexation was never recognised internationally and reports on Sunday said the United States would pressure Israel to allow E

    ast Jerusalem residents to participate in the elections to choose Arafat's successor as head of the Palestinian Authority.

    The issue is expected to feature high on the agenda in talks between Shalom and US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on Monday.

    Some compromise

    For his part, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya confirmed on Saturday that a presidential election would take place before 9 January as prescribed by the Palestinians' basic law, and called for a global effort to help jump-start the stalled Middle East peace process.

    Other members of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet, which was due to meet on Sunday, indicated they favoured compromise over the issue.

    Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a former mayor of the city, emphasised that Palestinian residents of Jerusalem neighbourhoods "which will remain in the future under Israeli sovereignty should not be able to vote".

    "But if we are talking about a neighbourhood which is likely to pass to the control of the Palestinian Authority, there is no reason to prevent those residents from taking part in elections," he said.

    The status of Jerusalem has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Olmert, considered a relative moderate in Sharon's right-wing cabinet, is one of the few ministers who have been prepared to publicly talk about the prospect of ceding control of particular areas of the holy city.



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