Palestine prays for peaceful polls

With hours to go before the start of the Palestinian legislative elections, voters and candidates are hoping that the polls will be fair, free, and above all peaceful.

Muhammad Dahlan gives a speech in the final campaign

Candidates retreated to their homes or headquarters after campaigning officially ended on Monday, many speaking to journalists who have converged on the occupied territories.
It is believed that as many as 1000 journalists and foreign correspondents have arrived in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with many focusing on the rivalry between Fatah and Hamas.
In Ram Allah, residents mourned a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was killed by Israeli troops on Monday.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops arrested nine suspected resistance fighters overnight.
Early on Tuesday, one Palestinian man was killed in the northern West Bank town of Nablus by masked gunmen as he was pasting up posters for a Fatah candidate.
Pre-election violence
The gunmen are believed to be affiliated to Fatah’s armed wing, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
The Nablus incident, an exception in a largely violence-free campaign, could undermine Fatah’s image there, one of the largest towns in the West Bank, in the closing hours before the elections.
Meanwhile in Gaza City, disgruntled residents involved in a family feud that has claimed the life of at least one person lit tyres in front of Mahmoud Abbas’s house to protest against the security lapse ahead of elections.
In Khan Yunus, a similar feud which has been going on for three months and which has paralysed life for many residents threatens to be a stumbling block for voters.

Last night, armed men from one of the clans broke into a shop belonging to the rival family, shattering windows and destroying merchandise, witnesses said.
Election lockdown
Fawzia al-Masri, a resident who has not been able to leave her house for nearly a month, said: “No one is going out … the streets are closed … and there are sandbags and checkpoints placed along the neighbourhoods. It is like a war zone. The PA has done absolutely nothing. I appealed to them three times and they said: ‘What can we do?’

Some Palestinians worry aboutthe post-election clear upSome Palestinians worry aboutthe post-election clear up

Some Palestinians worry about
the post-election clear up

“Yesterday, [Muhammad] Dahlan came to campaign, but the streets were empty, so he left. He never asked about us before, he only came to campaign.”

Muhammad Dahlan, a Fatah frontrunner, called on his supporters to pressure independents to drop out of the race to help ensure a win for the ruling party in the hotly contested and crucial town.
“Every vote for these candidates is like a vote for Hamas,” he said, in a rally of 20,000 young supporters on Sunday.
Security forces deployed

Meanwhile, Abbas made an appeal for maximum voter turnout as the main armed factions pledged in a news conference to ensure that the elections proceed peacefully.

The Palestinian interior ministry is deploying 13,000 security forces inside and around election centres, Tawfiq Abu Khusa, its spokesman, said.
“We are ready to carry out our duty, and to make sure the elections are secure and safe for everyone,” he said.

Asked what the security forces intend to do if members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, show up as they have threatened to do to secure election centres, Abu Khusa said: “We are the only group who will carry guns and protect people. There is no role for armed groups or factions in this.”
In Gaza City, hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children marched through the streets, calling for an end to the lawlessness that has gripped Gaza in recent months, even as machine-gun fire could be heard in the distance.
“No to security lapses, yes to the rule of law,” they shouted.
Mixed feelings
Palestinians are looking to the elections with a mixture of hope, cynicism, and in some cases, apathy.

“I just want the election to be over with so we can stop speculating and analyse the future based on real results, and so we proceed to the next phase”

Khamis Ilawa,
Gaza shopkeeper

Many have expressed their distaste at how campaigning has visually polluted Palestinian skylines and walls, and how independent candidates have been marginalised by both the media and the government.
Khamis Ilawa, a Gaza shopkeeper who said he would vote for Salaam Fayyad’s Third Way list, said: “I just want the election to be over with so we can stop speculating and analyse the future based on real results, and so we proceed to the next phase.

In reference to the dizzying display of campaign posters, banners, balloons, and flyers that have enveloped the Palestinian territories, Abu Muhammad, a taxi driver who lives in Gaza, said: “I’m just wondering how this mess is going to be cleaned up.”


There are more than 810,000 registered voters in the West Bank, and another 530,000 in the Gaza Strip distributed across age groups, according to the Central Elections Commission (CEC). 
It said that final preparations had been taken for election day. Hazim Balusha, head of the CEC’s public relations department, said: “We are ready. All logistical and technical issues have been taken care of, and our staff is standing-by for potential problems.”

Balusha has said West Bank voters who live in villages may have difficulty getting to polling stations because the Israelis have closed so many roads and set up checkpoints restricting their movement, though there have been special arrangements made with the Israeli forces to ease travel restrictions.
“We hope it proceeds in the manner that was agreed upon,” Balusha said.
The Israeli army has also said it will suspend “arrest raids” throughout the West Bank for the duration of the elections.
Candidates have expressed fears that the Israeli occupation army might disrupt their freedom of movement or even arrest them. 

Palestinians remain concernedover the security situationPalestinians remain concernedover the security situation

Palestinians remain concerned
over the security situation

Balusha was worried that Palestinian voters inside the northern Gaza buffer zone, such as those in the village of al-Siyafa, may still be at risk.

Residents of the village told that while they had been given assurances of free travel, they nevertheless feared for their lives.

Musa al-Ghul, a village leader, who is also contesting local elections as an independent candidate, said: “We have lost any sense of security – we are living under constant fear. Anyone who moves is subject to harm and we travel out of our homes at our own risk.”

On Saturday, the Israeli army shot and killed an unarmed Palestinian man and wounded two others who were found in the buffer zone.

Hundreds of foreign observers who are due to monitor the elections have deployed throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are 850 international observers, according to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC).
The monitors include Jimmy Carter, a former US president, as well as government officials from a range of countries, and NGO representatives.
Many of the European monitors and some of the American monitors are already meeting representatives of Hamas.
The United States and the European Union had said they would not initiate contacts with Hamas, though Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said on Tuesday her government would consider speaking to a Palestinian government with Hamas ministers in power.

Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, the Israeli Defence Force chief of staff, said on Tuesday the military had not yet formed a strategy if Hamas was voted in. 
Hamas has scoffed at American threats to cut financial aid to the PA if Hamas were allowed to join the government.
Varied estimates 
Fatah and Hamas have given varied estimates as to the number of seats each expects to win on Wednesday.

Prediction polls show the poll to be a close run thingPrediction polls show the poll to be a close run thing

Prediction polls show the poll to 
be a close run thing

Nabil Shaath, Fatah’s election chief and the Palestinian Authority minister of information, said during a live debate Palestinian TV debate on Tuesday night that he believed Fatah would win 50 seats and Hamas half that. 
Mahmoud Ramahi, Hamas’s candidate and media spokesman, said during the same debate Hamas would win a minimum of 50 seats out of 132 in the Palestinian parliament.
Opinion polls from the past few days suggest that Hamas and Fatah will be running neck and neck, with Fatah edging out Hamas slightly in the national lists.
In district voting, Fatah is expected to perform well in Jericho, Ram Allah, Qalqilia, Khan Yunus, and Rafah.

Hamas’s Change and Reform list is expected to win in Gaza City, Dair al Balah, Northern Gaza, Hebron, and Tulkarim. The poll remains extremely close in the Nablus, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Jerusalem districts.

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