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(photo credit: AP [file])
Eight veteran Fatah officials on Sunday called for delaying next month's parliamentary elections because of the state of anarchy and lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel's opposition to polling stations in Jerusalem.
A Fatah-affiliated militia also called on Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to resign and said its members would use force to prevent the PA from holding the elections.
In a letter to Abbas, the Fatah leaders urged him to postpone the elections, slated for January 25, because of the latest security deterioration in PA-ruled areas and Israeli threats to ban the vote in Jerusalem.
It's not clear at this stage if Israel will allow Arab residents of Jerusalem to participate in the elections, as they did in 1996 when voters cast their ballots at post office branches in the city.
Fatah activists in Jerusalem announced over the weekend that they would boycott the elections because of the power struggle in the ruling party. All the Fatah candidates in Jerusalem who were originally planning to run dropped out of the race, accusing Abbas of sidelining city representatives in the party's official list for the elections.
Among those who signed the letter to Abbas are Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath, as well as members of the Fatah central committee, a body dominated by old guard leaders.
A senior PA official here told The Jerusalem Post that the severe crisis in Fatah and the internal violence would eventually force Abbas to delay the elections indefinitely. "Many Fatah activists are threatening to vote for Hamas in protest against the strife in the party," he said. "In addition, I don't believe we would be able to guarantee the safety of foreign observers who are supposed to monitor the elections."
Several Fatah militias in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Sunday reiterated their opposition to holding the elections.
Aboud Akubeh, commander of the Pioneers of the Popular Army, one of several Fatah militias operating in the West Bank, said his group was determined to thwart the elections. Calling on Abbas to resign, Akubeh held the veteran Fatah leadership responsible for the split in the party.
"We're not happy with the makeup of the Fatah list because it does not reflect the will of the people," he complained. "That's why we will prevent the elections from taking place."
Some Palestinians said they did not rule out the possibility that the PA was deliberately turning a blind eye to the anarchy and violence so it could have a good excuse to postpone the elections.
"The Palestinian Authority is talking a lot about imposing law and order, but it isn't doing anything," said a local academic. "This is very suspicious and it's widely believed that the PA leadership is looking for an excuse to delay the elections because of their fear of a Hamas victory."
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar warned the PA against calling off the elections, saying the latest cycle of internal violence was part of an "organized plan designed to create the proper atmosphere for delaying the vote."
He added: "The Fatah candidates know that they will get zero votes in the elections and that's why they're now searching for an excuse to postpone the elections. This is a filthy game. Fatah is responsible for the anarchy."
An Italian national who was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip on Sunday morning was released unharmed several hours later. The man was identified as "peace activist" Alessandro Bernardini. He was traveling on a minibus carrying 18 foreigners, including European lawmakers, in Khan Yunis, when Fatah gunmen forced him out and sped away with him.
The Aksa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying that it demanded a full investigation into the circumstances of the death of Yasser Arafat and the dismissal of corrupt officials.
On Saturday night, masked gunmen blew up a United Nations club in Gaza City in protest over the serving of alcohol. The attack came as UN staff members were celebrating New Year's Eve. No one was hurt.
In a related development, a public opinion poll published on Sunday showed that Hamas will win up to 37 percent of the votes in the parliamentary elections. The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, gave Fatah 43%. Conducted during the period between December 19 and 31, the poll covered 4,560 potential voters and has a margin of error of 2% to 7%.