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(photo credit: AP)
US President George Bush President George W. Bush wants Palestinian elections to go forward as scheduled this month with no delay and thinks Palestinians should be allowed to vote in east Jerusalem, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Tuesday.
"It's our desire to see the elections go forward as scheduled," McClellan said.
"We believe that people must have access to the ballot," the spokesman said. "Arrangements have been made in the past to ensure that those persons [in east Jerusalem] can vote and we believe some arrangements should be possible at this time," he added.
Meanwhile, Palestinian candidates held a parade led by an actor in a Mickey Mouse costume, sang songs about the return of Islam and plastered the streets of the West Bank and Gaza with political posters as they kicked off their parliamentary election campaign Tuesday.
Leaders of Hamas insisted the vote must take place Jan. 25 as scheduled, despite an Israeli ban on voting in Jerusalem, shooting down Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' suggestion that it be delayed.
"Postponing the election will lead to a vacuum and to a dark future," Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas candidate, told reporters in Gaza. "Postponing the election is not the solution."
Mohammed Abu Teir, No. 2 on the Hamas slate, said the election should go on even if Jerusalem residents were forced to travel to the West Bank to vote.
"I'd prefer to vote anywhere in the suburbs of Jerusalem rather than vote under the Israeli presence in the post offices," he said. His comments marked the first time Hamas raised such an option.
"Islam is the solution" and "One hand resists and one hand builds" read some of the Hamas signs.
The controversy over Jerusalem erupted the moment the campaign started Tuesday morning, when Israeli police scuffled with a series of Palestinian candidates trying to canvass for votes in the busy plaza outside the Damascus Gate leading into Jerusalem's walled Old City.
Israeli police scuffled with Fatah candidates as they tried to hold a rally, arresting eight of them, police said.
"We will have elections in Jerusalem and you will not be able to stop us," shouted candidate Ahmed Ghneim.
Police also briefly detained independent candidate Mustafa Barghouti and struggled to grab a campaign banner away from Hanan Ashrawi, another independent candidate, as they campaigned outside Damascus Gate.
"Any Palestinian activity in Jerusalem is forbidden," police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.
Other election activities Tuesday went smoother, as political parties put up campaign posters on walls and hung banners from electrical wires in Palestinian towns across the West Bank and Gaza. "Islam is the solution," read one Hamas sign.
Hamas candidates and about 200 supporters marched to a cemetery in the West Bank city of Nablus to pay their respects at the graves of three Hamas leaders killed in fighting with Israel. "We ask all Palestinians to join us to create an Islamic state. The Islamic state is on the rise," said Sheik Hamed Bitawi, a Hamas candidate.
They then marched to the center of town, unfurled a giant Palestinian flag and the green flag of Hamas and sang: "Islam has returned, Islam is here."
Ahmed Sa'adat, who heads the list for the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, launched his campaign with a news conference in a Palestinian prison in the West Bank town of Jericho. Saadat is being held in connection with the PFLP's assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister in 2001.
In Gaza City, actors dressed as cartoon characters, including Mickey Mouse, led a children's parade for independent candidate Marwan Kanafani, in an attention-grabbing ploy. PFLP candidates shook hands with merchants and distributed campaign pamphlets.
Fatah postponed the start of its Gaza campaign by a day after two Islamic Jihad militants were killed by an Israeli air strike late Monday. The continuing violence with Israel and the chaos caused by armed gangs, mostly from Fatah itself, have called into question the possibility of holding orderly elections.
The head of the Fatah campaign, Information Minister Nabil Shaath, said he expected the party to win 70 percent of the 132 parliament seats. Abu Teir said his Hamas group would win up to 40 percent of the seats.
Recent polls showed Fatah getting 43 percent of the seats to Hamas' 25 percent.