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Israel allows Palestinian elections

2006-07-28 14:33

  The Israeli Cabinet yesterday unanimously agreed to allow Palestinian parliamentary elections to take place in Jerusalem, defusing a crisis that threatened to derail the January 25 balloting.

  Israeli Attorney General Meni Mazuz also told Ehud Olmert to continue serving as acting prime minister as long as Ariel Sharon lies ill in the hospital, presumably through the March 28 elections, Israeli officials said.

  The move allowed Mazuz to continue to define Sharon as temporarily, rather than permanently, incapacitated because Sharon's doctors have not yet offered a prognosis, the Haaretz daily reported. Declaring Sharon permanently incapacitated would require the Cabinet to elect a successor and would be irreversible.

  Hospital spokesman Ron Krumer said Sharon's condition remained critical but stable. Sharon has failed to awaken since doctors began lifting his heavy sedation nearly a week ago, prompting concerns he might never emerge from a coma.

  Sharon's abrupt illness threw Israel and the Mideast into turmoil because he was seen as the Israeli politician most capable of negotiating with the Palestinians.

  Olmert, a key Sharon ally and a proponent of further territorial concessions to the Palestinians, has quietly been easing the turbulence created by Sharon's illness. The Cabinet decision on voting in disputed Jerusalem was seen as the first major political test for Olmert, Sharon's likely political heir.

  Palestinian voting in Jerusalem is a thorny issue because both sides claim the city as their capital.

  Israel had threatened to bar Palestinians from voting in east Jerusalem because candidates of the militant Hamas group were to appear on the ballot. Palestinians threatened to cancel the election if Israel followed through on its decision.

  In the wake of US pressure, Israel's Cabinet decided to let the elections proceed as long as members of armed groups, including Hamas, which call for Israel's destruction, are not on the ballot. The vote would be held under a compromise used in previous elections, that would allow some Jerusalem Arabs to cast absentee ballots in post offices.

  “I welcome this decision,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said.

  Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri termed the decision “unacceptable,” but said it would not put off the elections. “We don't need Israeli permission to participate in the elections,” Abu Zuhri said.

  Shortly after the vote, police scuffled with Hamas members in Jerusalem's Old City, and detained six people, including three held on suspicion of illegal campaigning, police said. Mohammed Abu Teir, No. 2 on the national Hamas slate, was among those detained, relatives said.

  Israeli police then raided a Hamas office in east Jerusalem it believed was being used for election-related activities, said Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. “Israel police will continue to close down all Hamas activity in east Jerusalem related to the upcoming election,” he said.

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