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Hamas announced on Thursday that it would proceed with its election campaign in Jerusalem despite Israel's decision to ban the movement from campaigning in the city.
Posters featuring Hamas candidates have appeared in Arab neighborhoods in the city over the past 48 hours alongside pictures of Fatah representatives. Jerusalem Municipality workers and policemen removed many of the posters.
"We have many ways of conducting our election campaign in Jerusalem," said Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri. "We will use private radio and television stations and newspapers to spread our message. We also have many supporters who are working in the field."
Masri dubbed the Israeli decision "extortion," saying his movement would not succumb to any threats. He also welcomed the US decision not to interfere in the parliamentary election, scheduled for January 25, adding that Hamas is subordinate to Palestinian law, not American dictates.
Sheikh Muhammad Abu Tair, a senior Hamas activist from Umm Tuba in Jerusalem, condemned the Israeli move as an "unjust decision aimed at consolidating Israeli occupation of Jerusalem."
Abu Tair, who was recently released from Israeli prison after serving a 25-year sentence, is running as No. 2 on Hamas's nationwide list for the parliamentary vote.
He urged the Palestinian Authority to put pressure on Israel to rescind the ban. "Israel is afraid Hamas might win the election," he said. "They have long been waging a campaign against Arabs in Jerusalem and now they want to deprive them of electing their representatives in the Palestinian Legislative Council."
Abu Tair reiterated his movement's rejection of the Oslo Accords, which, he said, were originally designed to ensure Israel's security at the expense of the Palestinians. "Oslo is dead," he declared. "The intifada has destroyed all defeatist projects in the region. It also saw the emergence of new forces that are capable of competing with the ruling Fatah Party, such as Hamas, which now has a strong presence among Palestinians."
According to Abu Tair, the results of recent municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Hamas scored significant victories, are behind Israel's decision to ban the movement from campaigning in Jerusalem. "Israel is trying to disrupt the vote because it does not want Hamas in the parliament," he charged.
He said Hamas was undeterred by US and EU threats to cut off financial aid to the Palestinians should the movement take win the election. "Hamas will remain strong despite these threats and we know how to manage the financial situation of our people," he said. "If the Western leaders respect themselves, then they should respect the choice of the Palestinians."
PA Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa said on Thursday that he was opposed to any restrictions on candidates in Jerusalem, including those belonging to Hamas. "The Palestinian Authority won't agree to hold the elections on time if Jerusalem is excluded," he said.