Parties wrap up campaigns

Candidates have been making a final appeal to Palestinians for their support on the last day of official campaigning before the elections.

    Supporters wave green Hamas and yellow Fatah flags

    In Gaza, parties held their final pre-election rallies, Islamist challenger Hamas in the central town of Dair al-Balah

    and r

    uling party Fatah in front of the late Yasser Arafat's home.

    Fatah's campaign strategy during the past month has focused on highlighting the historical accomplishments of the group, such as launching and leading the decades-old struggle for Palestinian statehood. 

    The group's armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has been responsible for a spate of kidnappings in Gaza in recent weeks, held a military rally of its own, despite vows by Samir Mashharawi, Fatah's political leader, that there would be no armed demonstrations in the run-up to elections. 

    The Brigades broke a no-arms

    Against a background of machine-gun fire, they called for unity in the ranks and the freedom of political prisoners, while making several verbal jabs at Hamas. 

    Abu Thair, the group's spokesman, said the Brigades would never disarm and that they would continue their resistance against Israel, while

    Salah al-Hajjaj, Brigades leader, appeared to a standing ovation from the crowd of mainly young people.

    In the Gaza city rally, Samir Mashrahawi evoked images of the late Yasser Arafat in front of his old home.   "He did not dream of a corrupt state, he did not dream of a weak and disunited Fateh, so do not make his spirit ache," he said.


    "We apologise to the Palestinian people for our mistakes and say to you: from this day forward there will be no more criminals; there will be nor more thieves allowed."

    Fatah campaigners made last-ditch attempts to win over both undecided voters and voters from opposition parties.  
    Taliban-style rule

    In some cases, they went door to door, playing on fears of Taliban-style rule in Gaza if Hamas were to win.

    Basma al-Ghalayini, 22, a Gaza resident, said: "A woman claiming to be a pollster came to my door, and then she told me not to vote for Hamas because they might ban weddings and throw acid on my face if I'm not dressed properly. 'Is that really what you want?' she asked me."

    Hamas has accused Fatah of waging a smear campaign against it, including accusing the movement of seeking to install a "Taliban-like regime".

    Fatah also distributed leaflets - some signed by fictitious groups - vilifying Hamas.

    Hamas spokesmen accused Fatah of "moral bankruptcy".
    Samir al-Qadi, a Hamas candidate running in the Hebron district, said: "We will not stoop to this level of indecency. We call on our opponents to refrain from mendacity, vilification and black propaganda."

    Ferrying voters

    In the West Bank, campaign managers rented cars and minibuses to take voters to polling stations.

    In Hebron, Hamas candidates visited community meeting halls.

    The resistance group's West Bank campaign has focused on the suburbs, which are counted as part of the Jerusalem district, where t

    here are about 50,000 eligible voters.

    Hamas supporters handing out

    At the village of Ithna, 20km west of Hebron, Nayif Rajub, a Hamas candidate, asked villagers to give their trust to "whomever you think is honest, able and strong".
    "I haven't come here to beg for votes, I've come to urge you to give your trust to whomever you think deserves it, to those who will be faithful to your hopes, to those who will never let you down."

    Asked if Hamas was ready to handle being in government, he said: "We will not flinch from shouldering our responsibilities ...

    we will not flee ... we will not fail or betray those who elected us.

    "You tried us in the resistance field, and we will not fail you in the political field as well."
    Sibling rivalry

    Nayif Rajub (above) will be
    running against brother Jibril

    While Rajub was courting villagers in the Hebron countryside, his older brother and Fatah candidate, Jibril Rajub, was attacking Hamas at a press conference in Hebron.
    The former head of the once-feared Preventive Security Force described Hamas as "a late comer to the resistance arena".  
    "I fought the Israeli occupation when my brother was playing with kids. Hamas is like those who embark on [the Hajj] pilgrimage while pilgrims are coming home."

    Fatah's campaign has included the introduction of a new logo - a sunflower with one leaf replaced with a Palestinian Kaffiya or national headdress - to convey a bright, clean, nationalistic image. 

    Fatah's bright new logo

    It has also set up an information hotline promising to provide "an answer to every question", in an effort to convey approachability and to combat its tarnished image, after being

    dogged by allegations of corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement.

    Hamas, which is running under the banner of Change and Reform, has toned down its anti-Israel rhetoric and focused instead on being devoted to ending corruption and security problems.


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