RAMALLAH - Facing a violent uprising by representatives of the young guard in his ruling Fatah party, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was under enormous pressure on Tuesday to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for next month.
The PA's central election commission decided to suspend all its activities in protest against a rash of attacks on its offices and employees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Election officials said they would not return to work until the PA could guarantee the safety of their workers.
"We are protesting the aggression against our offices today," said election commission director Ammar Dwaik. "We have suspended all work until we receive security for our offices and our staff."
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said the PA chairman, who met with the heads of the election commission, promised to impose law and order.
"President Abbas has instructed security commanders to immediately take required measures against the aggressors and to protect the ele ction commission offices all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip," he said.
PA officials here expressed deep concern at what they described as an "intifada" against Abbas and the veteran leadership of the Fatah, saying it had become almost impossible to ho ld the elections under the current circumstances.
"Fatah is facing its worst crisis since its establishment," one official told The Jerusalem Post. "I don't rule out the possibility that Abbas would eventually be forced to call off the elections."
The latest crisis was triggered by Abbas's decision to appoint Fatah's candidates for the parliamentary vote instead of endorsing the results of the recent primary elections for the party. The primary elections saw many of the young guard activists defeat vet eran Fatah leaders throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abbas is expected to announce the Fatah list that will run in the parliamentary elections shortly before the deadline for registering candidates expires on Wednesday at midnight.
The decision to announce the list at the 11th hour was seen by his critics as an attempt to present the young guard with a fait accompli.
According to unconfirmed reports, Abbas's list excludes many of the winners of the primary elections, especially those who see th emselves as representatives of the Fatah's young guard.
Hatem Abdel Kader, who came in first in the primary elections for the Jerusalem area, described the attempt to form a new list as an "armed robbery.
"They are trying to steal the results of the pr i mary elections," he said. "No one knows what's really going on in Fatah and who's behind the latest wave of violence."
Abdel Kader told the Post he and other Fatah leaders expected the parliamentary elections to be postponed indefinitely because of th e c risis in the party and attempts to ignore the results of the primary vote.
"The Fatah leadership is responsible for the severe crisis and the violence," he said.
Another top Fatah official said Abbas had rejected demands by the young guard to put j a il ed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti at the head of the party's list. He said Abbas and the Fatah central committee, a body dominated by veteran leaders of the party, were determined to have Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei at the top of the list.
Several Fat ah ca ndidates have threatened to run as independents in the parliamentary vote - a move that would likely cost the party several thousand votes and play into the hands of the rival Hamas movement. Some Fatah activists hinted that Barghouti and other disgru ntle d activists might form an independent list to run in the elections.
Salim Zurai, a Fatah activist from the Gaza Strip who spent 25 years in Israeli prison, announced his resignation from the party in protest against the way the party's leadership was han dling the issue of the elections.
He also accused the US of meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians by supporting some Fatah candidates and disapproving of others.
"A pro-American camp is trying to control Fatah," Zurai told the Pal est ine News Network agency. "I have documents proving that the US Embassy [in Tel Aviv] is corresponding with some candidates."
In Tuesday's violence, masked gunmen stormed election offices in several areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They fired in the air, destroyed computers and ordered workers out of the buildings. No one was hurt.
An urgent statement issued by the election commission said dozens of Fatah gunmen had opened fire at its offices in Gaza City, Jabalya, Rafah, Khan Yunis, Nablus and Jen i n.
Ata Abu Rmaileh, a top Fatah activist from Jenin, condemned as undemocratic the decision to appoint candidates. "We are protesting against the Fatah leadership's decision to ignore the results of the primary elections," he said after he and some Fat ah gun men closed down the election offices in the city.
Abu Iyad, a spokesman for the Fatah gunmen in the Gaza Strip, said the attacks were just a first step. "This is a peaceful step to protest the policy of [candidate] appointments within Fatah," he s ai d.
A ccording to eyewitnesses, in all the incidents PA security forces watched from a distance but did not try to stop the gunmen.
Leaflets distributed by several Fatah groups called on Abbas to postpone the parliamentary elections, saying the y would no t acce pt a list not headed by Barghouti. The leaflets accused the Fatah central committee of "perpetrating crimes" against Fatah by trying to impose its own candidates.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar accused the Fatah rebels of seeking to postpon e the e lect ions to avoid being defeated by his movement. "We will not accept a delay," he said. "It's clear that they fear the results of the elections." Ë‡io,