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(photo credit: AP [file])
A leader of the ruling Fatah Party in Nablus was shot to death Tuesday in violence related to upcoming elections for the Palestinian parliament.
Nine gunmen, also affiliated with Fatah, pulled up in two cars to the house of Abu Ahmed Hassouna, 44, around 1:30 a.m. and began firing at posters of election candidates on his house, relatives said.
Hassouna leaned out a window, shouted at them to stop, and they shot him in the head, they said. He was rushed to a hospital, where he died shortly after. The gunmen fled, some by car and some on foot, after one of their cars broke down, relatives said.
Early this month, a Hamas supporter was killed in a firefight that erupted while rival factions were hanging election posters in Gaza City. Hamas blamed the ruling Fatah Party for the shooting.
Reports of election fraud and voting irregularities during the first stage of the Palestinian general elections have reached Israeli security officials.
According to the allegations, Palestinian Authority security forces, which began voting earlier than the rest of the population, have used their freedom of movement throughout the West Bank in order to cast multiple votes in different Palestinian cities with the intent of strengthening PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Party against Hamas .
Some 60,000 Palestinian security personnel voted over the past few days so that they could provide security when the rest of the population votes on Wednesday.
The fraudulent votes, according to army Radio, were apparently made possible by Palestinian election observers who turned their backs, and by the absence of foreign observers at some of the voting stations.
In addition, special ink that stays on the voter's finger for a few of days, and that is supposed to be used when the rest of the population votes, was not used for the security forces.
Sources within Israel's defense establishment said earlier in the week that they believe that Hamas will win the upcoming elections and form the next coalition.
One school of thought, reflected by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's adviser Dov Weisglass and much of the defense establishment, maintains that a strong Hamas showing would lead to a new round of terrorism, as Syria and Iran would use Hamas's new-found legitimacy to continue encouraging terrorism.
Another school, led by National Security Council head Giora Eiland, argues that a strong Hamas showing would lead to the moderation of at least some elements of Hamas, and that Israel should not rule out dealing with those elements at some point.