barghouti poster298 88ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti on Saturday warned the Palestinian Authority against exploiting Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's illness to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for January 25.
The warning followed persistent reports over the weekend that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was considering delaying the vote because of the latest developments surrounding Sharon's illness.
"The elections are a political, legal and national process of first-degree importance that should not be affected by the latest developments in Israel," Barghouti said in a message from prison, where he is serving five life terms for involvement in terror attacks on Israel.
Barghouti, who is running in the elections at the head of the ruling Fatah party's list, said that if Fatah wins the vote, he would work toward forming a "national unity" government that would comprise representatives of various groups, including Hamas.
He described the upcoming elections as a "democratic intifada" that would lead to the creation of a new Palestinian political system. "After the elections, Fatah will work to implement major reforms in the Palestinian Authority, end corruption and put those involved on trial, impose law and order and eliminate all forms of lawlessness and chaos," he added.
Hamas leaders also warned Abbas against calling off the elections. Muhammad Nazzal, a senior Hamas official, said many PA representatives were trying to postpone the elections under various pretexts. Hel accused the PA of standing behind the latest upsurge in internal violence in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to find a good excuse to delay the elections.
"The kidnapping of foreigners, raids on election offices and public buildings, [and] the killing of two Egyptian soldiers [on Thursday] along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt are all part of an organized scheme designed to postpone the elections," he said.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar expressed fear that many armed gangs in the Gaza Strip would try to disrupt the voting on election day. "If this happens, there will be a big explosion that will bring us closer to civil war," he said.
Zahar ruled out the possibility that Hamas would negotiate with Israel after it wins the elections. "We must find a way to cut off all ties with Israel," he added. "We are not obliged to sit with them."
Meanwhile, tensions are mounting between Fatah and Hamas as both sides step up their efforts to win the minds and hearts of voters. After last week's confrontation between supporters of the two parties in Gaza City, where a Hamas supporter was gunned down, a clash erupted on Friday in the Kalandiya refugee camp south of Ramallah when Fatah gunmen attacked Hamas candidates.
At least four people were injured when scores of Fatah gunmen broke up a Hamas rally in the camp, forcing Hamas candidates to flee for their lives. The gunmen, backed by dozens of local residents, pelted the Hamas supporters and candidates with stones and beat some of them with clubs, chains and axes.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the attack as "yet another attempt by Fatah to prevent the elections from taking place on time." A spokesman for the attackers said they decided to expel the Hamas candidates from the camp because "Kalandiya is a Fatah stronghold."
In a related development, Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, on Saturday issued a warning to foreign election monitors to leave the Jenin area immediately.
Zakariya Zubeidi, the local commander of the group, said his men were determined to thwart the PA's plan to hold elections "under occupation." He warned that foreign observers who don't comply "will bear the grave consequences of their actions."
Accusing the PA of failing to impose law and order, several armed groups in the Gaza Strip announced over the weekend that they had decided to establish a "joint force" to end the anarchy.
"If the Palestinian Authority continues to drag its feet on this issue, we will set up a special security force to undertake this responsibility," the groups said in a statement.
They also condemned the killing of two Egyptian border guards when scores of Fatah gunmen smashed through the border, knocking down concrete slabs and opening a hole that enabled many Palestinians to infiltrate into Egypt.
"We condemn this incident in the strongest possible terms as it badly hurts the image of the Palestinians, who only use their weapons against the Zionist enemy," they said.
The gunmen were protesting against the arrest of one of their colleagues, Ala al-Hams, on suspicion of kidnapping three British citizens in the Gaza Strip last week. Hams was released on Friday.