Hamas to boycott Gaza revote

GAZA (Reuters) — Hamas said on Tuesday it would boycott a rerun of some Palestinian town elections in Gaza, stoking tension with President Mahmoud Abbas Fateh movement that could complicate his agenda for peace-making with Israel.
A potential solution surfaced later, when a Fateh leader said it had agreed to put off the June 1 rerun for an unspecified period.

Hamas had earlier sought a month’s delay as a condition for taking part. The Islamist group had no immediate comment on Fateh’s gesture.

Abbas wants Hamas, which won town polls on May 5 that were cancelled after Fateh complained of irregularities, to enter mainstream politics in hopes of solidifying a tenuous ceasefire with Israel and broadening support for Middle East peace talks.

Hamas and Fateh are also at loggerheads over the likely postponement of July 17 parliamentary elections in which Hamas was poised to do well.

Egyptian mediation last week failed to resolve their festering dispute over the local election outcome and a partial rerun was scheduled for Wednesday.

“Hamas has decided not to participate in the so-called rerun in local councils in Gaza because Fateh refuses any guarantees to ensure a fair election,” Hamas Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told a news conference in Gaza City.

“Hamas is calling on our people to boycott the process. Hamas will not recognise the result. Hamas has the right to use all means to defend its [May 5] victories. The crisis we have reached is Fateh’s responsibility alone,” he said.

Conflict with Hamas could undermine Abbas’ quest for peace with Israel. Hamas, sworn to destroying the Jewish state, is observing a ceasefire engineered by Abbas. But the deal hinged partly on his promise of more power-sharing via elections.

Hamas denies Fateh allegations of fraud

Palestinian courts cancelled Hamas victories in some precincts of the large Gaza municipalities of Rafah, Beit Lahiya and Al Bureij after Fateh complained of fraud, although international observers said they found no such evidence.

Hamas rejected the court decision, calling it a “political ploy to steal our victory” and accusing Fateh of piling pressure on judges. Tens of thousands of Hamas activists have staged protest rallies, raising fears of factional strife.

Senior Fateh leader Samir Al Mashharawi said on Tuesday the party had agreed to delay the rerun, with a new date to be decided shortly by the elections committee.

“We did this for the sake of national consensus,” he said. “Fateh is keen to end this crisis. Fateh will not be happy when a Palestinian party is absent from the election. We seek real competition; we do not seek to achieve false victories.”

Abbas, who inherited a Fateh movement that many Palestinians say grew corrupt and remote under longtime leader Yasser Arafat, favours democratic reforms to co-opt fighters and curb violence he believes has damaged Palestinians’ case for a state.

Hamas, vanguard of a Palestinian revolt in Israeli-occupied territories, entered electoral politics for the first time this year, scoring victories in a string of West Bank and Gaza towns and gearing up for the promised July parliamentary vote.

But senior Fateh officials said last week that vote was likely to be postponed because of party discord over changes to the voting law sought by Abbas to give smaller factions like Hamas a better chance of gaining seats.

Hamas has called the looming delay a manoeuvre to extend Fateh’s domination in parliament and said it could reconsider its commitment to the ceasefire as a result. Abbas needs the truce to enable peac-emaking with Israel, which plans to remove all 21 Gaza settlements and four of 120 in the West Bank from August in a unilateral plan to “disengage” from conflict with Palestinians.

Israel plans Arab home demolition
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AP) — A large chunk of an Arab neighbourhood here is marked for demolition to make room for a national park, according to municipal documents obtained Tuesday by the Associated Press and comments by attorneys for the home owners.

Palestinian officials warned of grave damage to delicate peace efforts and demanded that Israel halt the plan to raze 88 homes in the Silwan neighbourhood, just below the walled Old City and near key holy sites, including Al Aqsa Mosque compound.

Several home owners have been served eviction notices, but the plan still faces a slow crawl through Israeli courts.

If approved, it would be one of the largest single demolitions since Israel captured traditionally Arab East Jerusalem — claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital — in the 1967 Mideast war, said Israeli human rights activist Danny Seidemann.

The fate of Jerusalem is one of the most explosive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and disagreement on whether and how to divide the city between the two peoples has torpedoed peace talks in the past.

Haaretz on Tuesday quoted the city engineer, Uri Shetrit, as saying the municipality wants to enlarge a small archaeological site next to the Silwan homes and turn the area into a national park. The park would connect several Jewish settlement enclaves in Silwan to the nearby City of David — another area of excavations.

Israel’s antiquities authority said it was unaware of a plan to establish a national park in the area.

Shetrit, who did not return repeated telephone messages Tuesday, wrote that the law permits the demolitions because the homes were built on land designated in 1977 as a “green area” where no construction is allowed.

Asked about the plans for Silwan, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said that the government is entitled to act against “illegal construction, but of course within a framework where all those concerned have the right to present their case before the courts.” However, Samir Huleileh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, warned that the demolition plans “is an unprecedented escalation that will overshadow” an upcoming meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. “The Israeli side knows what kind of outcome this action will produce, and they decided [to do] it because they don’t want the peace process to go ahead,” he said.

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