Preparations for Palestinian elections dim amid rivals' differences

2013-02-10 15:07:25 GMT2013-02-10 23:07:25(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

GAZA/RAMALLAH, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) -- Preparations for the coming Palestinian general elections seemed dim Sunday as differences between Islamic Hamas movement and its rival Fatah party are still going on.

The Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC) announced Sunday that the registration for voters, males and females who are over 17 years old and have the right to vote, will start Monday in the West Bank and for the first time since 2004 in the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas.

"Registration will take one week," Jamil al-Khaldi, the Gaza chairman of CEC, told Xinhua, adding that "650 employees will be present at 256 registration centers all over the Gaza Strip to register the population. The focus will be on the Gaza Strip as registration happens here for the first time since 2004."

Since the last parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories held in January 2006, Gaza Strip population has grown and 350,000 people more need to be registered. Al-Khaldi said there were 550,000 people who voted in the last elections.

All Gaza-based radio stations began two days ago to broadcast a campaign urging those who have the right to vote to register at the registration centers all over the Gaza Strip. The Hamas government had been refusing to allow registration in Gaza, saying that a proper atmosphere was not present.

Hamas movement and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party agreed in Cairo to resume the CEC work in the Gaza Strip as a first step to move forward the crippled reconciliation sponsored by Egypt. Some 26 observing groups will observe the process of registration, said al-Khaldi.

Contrary to the Gaza Strip, the West Bank registration of voters was renewed when the municipal elections were held in October. CEC officials said 373 registration centers will be opened all over the West Bank for those who did not register last time.

The Palestinian factions, mainly Fatah party, have urged its supporters to get registered. However, observers said the despair among the Palestinians due to the ongoing differences between Fatah and Hamas may influence the registration.

Leaders of the two rival groups ended Saturday a two-day meeting held in Cairo on the outstanding issues related to the implementation of the reconciliation deals reached before in Cairo and Qatar. Officials said the meeting failed to overcome differences between the rival groups concerning the law for the election of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the parliament in exile of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and PLO factions attended the meeting.

The meeting, according to the officials, also failed to come up with specific dates for holding the general elections and forming the transitional unity government.

"President Abbas is sticking to issuing a presidential decree on forming the transitional unity government, together with specifying the date for holding the elections, presidential, legislative and for the PLO parliament," said Azzam el-Ahmad, head of Fatah delegation to the dialogue with Hamas.

The senior official told "Voice of Palestine" Radio Sunday that the Palestinian CEC "would need at least two weeks to finish the registration of voters and then we would need additional four weeks to prepare the lists of the registered voters, so I expect that the decree is to be issued by the end of March."

However, Khalil al-Hayyah, a senior Hamas leader, told pro- Hamas al-Aqsa TV station that the meeting in Cairo agreed to start the consultations on forming the transitional unity government and declare a date for holding the general elections in proper circumstances.

Keeping the door open would slow the process of achieving a real reconciliation, said a well-informed Palestinian source who spoke to Xinhua on condition of anonymity, adding that it seems that Hamas wants to have first the elections for the PLO parliament and postpone the other elections for one year.

Meanwhile, Hamas officials accused Abbas of postponing the implementation of the reconciliations to see the results of the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to the region, which is scheduled in March. However, Palestinian officials close to Abbas denied the accusation.

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