EU election monitors to deploy Monday

Israel "has been cooperative," says EU spokesman; Italian hostage freed by PA.

pals in gaza rally 298 (photo credit: AP)
pals in gaza rally 298
(photo credit: AP)
European Union election monitors are scheduled to fan out across the West Bank and Gaza Monday, despite the recent spate of kidnappings in the Palestinian areas and threats by Palestinian terrorist organizations to disrupt the upcoming PA elections. Palestinian security forces stormed a building on sunday where an Italian hostage was being held, freeing the man after a shootout with his kidnappers, Palestinian security officials said. The hostage was seen being taken out of the building to safety by security personnel. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the shootout. Mathias Eick, spokesman for the EU Election Observation Mission, said that the 32 "long-term" observers who arrived in the country Friday would deploy as scheduled Monday morning. "We are deploying as planned," Eick said. "We have security experts reviewing the situation hour by hour. Every new incident is a cause of concern, but there has not been any change of plans." Eick said four people would be deployed in Gaza, joining two members of a 14-strong core group that arrived in early December who were already stationed there. The other 28 monitors would be deployed in the West Bank. Another 128 "short term" observers, as well as 30 members of the European Parliament, are slated to arrive just a few days before the planned January 25 elections. Eick said that the monitors to be deployed Monday would set up regional election monitor centers, speak to various candidates, and observe the PA's preparation for the elections and the start of the election campaign. While Israel has said that it would not cooperate with the Palestinians in running the elections were Hamas to take part, Eick said that the EU had received full cooperation from the Foreign Ministry. Israel "has not obstructed and has been cooperative," Eick said. "They have made clear that they want to help." Eick said that election monitors who have already arrived have received documentation from the Foreign Ministry to facilitate movement in the West Bank. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that while Israel has facilitated the arrival of the monitors, it was not responsible for them once they were in the Palestinian territories. She said the EU was obviously aware of the security situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and that it was not necessary for Israel to issue any type of special warning.