J'lem police crack down on Palestinian campaigning

Amid continuing ambiguity over Israel's stance on the participation of Jerusalem Arabs in the upcoming Palestinian elections, Jerusalem police on Tuesday broke up a small outdoor election rally held in east Jerusalem and detained several Palestinians who took part in three separate election-related events in the city, police said. During the middle of the night police detained two Arab residents of Jerusalem who put up election posters in the Christian Quarter of the Old City. The two men, who were detained overnight for allegedly defacing a public space, were later released. Later Tuesday, prominent Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi and a group of Fatah supporters held a late-morning election rally and a press conference at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City, police said. Ashrawi refused to take down a Palestinian election banner she was carrying at the gathering and police confiscated it, Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. Ashrawi's assistant was detained for questioning for trying to prevent a policeman from carrying out his duties, while another participant in the rally, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, was detained for being in Jerusalem illegally. Barghouti, a distant relative of imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is running as an independent candidate, has been repeatedly arrested in the past for entering Jerusalem without a proper permit. He was later escorted out of the city to the West Bank by Jerusalem police, and ordered to stay out of Jerusalem for the next 30 days. Later in the afternoon, police dispersed a group of 50 Jerusalem Arabs who were holding an election rally replete with PLO flags near the Damascus Gate, police said. Four participants were detained for questioning. According to the Oslo Accords, Palestinian political activity is forbidden in the capital. On Monday, Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas hinted the planned January 25 elections could be postponed, saying that the vote would be impossible if Israel did not allow Jerusalem Arabs to participate. His remarks came amid growing pressure from his mainstream Fatah Party to delay the vote due to Hamas's increasing popularity, with the Palestinian terror organization now forecast to capture as much as 40 percent of the vote. Israel has sent out mixed signals regarding whether east Jerusalem Arabs will be permitted to vote in the city. At first, Israel ruled out any Jerusalem balloting due to the participation in the race of Hamas, which has been behind scores of Palestinian suicide bombings over the last five years. But over the last couple of weeks, Israel has softened its stance on the matter indicating it would allow the voting in the capital, saying that it did not want to be blamed for any postponement of the vote. The issue of Jerusalem voting is largely seen by Israeli officials as a red herring, with a compromise on the issue seen as likely. Israel has allowed Arab residents of east Jerusalem to take part in two previous Palestinian elections via an absentee ballot at city and suburban post offices.