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SLUG: 2-325051 Palestinian Elections (L-O)
TITLE=PALESTINIAN ELECTIONS (L-O)
HEADLINE: Palestinian Elections Postponed Amid Challenge from Islamists
INTRO: The Palestinian Authority has postponed parliamentary elections, in an attempt to ward off a challenge by Islamic militants. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.
TEXT: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas postponed parliamentary elections scheduled for mid-July, fearing a strong showing by the Islamic militant group, Hamas. The well-armed paramilitary organization is seeking the destruction of Israel, so a victory by the group could torpedo Mr. Abbas's efforts to revive the peace process.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat told VOA that Hamas is acting like a parallel authority.
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"And if you want to establish a society under the rule of law and democracy and election, I do not think parallel authorities should be tolerated."
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Hamas condemned the decision to postpone elections, saying it is a violation of the four-month-old cease-fire agreement with the Palestinian Authority. But the group stopped short of calling off the truce.
Israel had warned Mr. Abbas that a Hamas victory could derail Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip this summer. Under the so-called "disengagement" plan, Israel will dismantle 21 Gaza settlements beginning in mid-August, and remove eight-thousand Jewish residents from their homes.
Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom:
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"If the Hamas will win and the Hamas will be in power, it seems to me illogical to move forward with the implementation of the disengagement plan like nothing happened."
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The Gaza pullout is expected to strengthen Mr. Abbas, because it will show his people the benefits of the peace process. So, the Palestinian leader prefers to hold elections after that. (SIGNED)
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