Abu Mazen fails to secure Hamas support for an election ceasefire

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The Independent Online

Abu Mazen, the new PLO chairman, was struggling last night to secure a ceasefire during the planned Palestinian elections, a move that would add to pressure on the Israeli government to make voting easier by relaxing checkpoints and closures.

Abu Mazen, the new PLO chairman, was struggling last night to secure a ceasefire during the planned Palestinian elections, a move that would add to pressure on the Israeli government to make voting easier by relaxing checkpoints and closures.

Meanwhile, in Washington the Israeli Foreign Minister, Sylvan Shalom, conceded that residents in Arab East Jerusalem would be allowed some means of voting in January's elections.

At talks with Abu Mazen last night, Hamas showed no immediate interest in the ceasefire proposal. Ismail Haniyeh, a prominent Hamas figure in Gaza, said: "This subject is not under discussion in Hamas."

Abu Amr, a Palestinian Legislative Council member with close knowledge of Hamas and a participant in the talks, said yesterday that Abu Mazen had told the factions that: "There is no possibility to conduct the elections while we are in a situation of war and conflict."

Hamas has indicated it does not intend to take part in national elections, but has not ruled out participation in future parliamentary elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council in which it could win a significant minority of members.

The faction pressed last night for the council elections to be held on 9 January, the same day as the presidential poll ­ a move that the current leadership has so far resisted.

Amid continuing rumours among Palestinians that their forrmer leader Yasser Arafat had been poisoned, the French medical authorities made it clear they would only release a full medical report to his wife and family. Ahmad Qureia, the Palestinian Prime Minister, has formally requested the report.

In Washington, Mr Shalom indicated after talks with Colin Powell, the outgoing Secretary of State, that he was climbing down from his previous opposition to voting by Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. The subject is highly sensitive because both Israelis and Palestinians see Jerusalem as their capital.

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, had already indicated it would be difficult to stop East Jerusalem Palestinians from voting as they did in the last Palestinian Authority elections in 1996. While repeating that "there will be no elections in Jerusalem", Mr Shalom indicated that the 200,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem could cast their votes in mail offices in the city.

This happened in 1996, although many preferred to go to outlying districts because of a heavy police presence and fears that voting inside the city could compromise their identity as East Jerusalem residents. That will be much more difficult this time because of the wall separating the city from such districts.

A senior Israeli government official suggested last night that in the absence of "terror attacks", Israel was anxious to be as helpful as possible. "The restraint we have shown since Yasser Arafat's death shows we are going out of our way not to make a mistake," the official added, saying the government wanted to tread a line between helping a particular candidate and not creating a positive atmosphere for the elections.

* Ariel Sharon, when a major-general at the beginning of the Six Day War in 1967, contemplated the army taking control to launch hostilities without a cabinet decision if necessary, according to official research by army historians reported yesterday in the newspaper Haaretz. Mr Sharon urged the then chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin, that cabinet members could be locked "in an adjacent room" until war had been declared by the chief of staff, the newspaper said.

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