Shalom reiterates vote threat

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel reiterated threats Wednesday to hamper January’s Palestinian election if the Islamist movement Hamas stands despite being urged by Washington to cooperate in organising the polls.

“We will not allow Hamas to take part in the elections” on January 25, said Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in a radio interview from New York where he has been attending the UN General Assembly.

“From our point of view, there will be no assistance nor aid [to the Palestinian Authority] if Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and refuses to recognise the state of Israel, participates,” he said.

A foreign ministry official told AFP that while Israel had no intention of reoccupying cities in the West Bank, it would not ease roadblocks or facilitate voting in East Jerusalem if Hamas were to stand.

“We will not cooperate and we will not make things easy as we did in January for [Palestinian Authority president] Mahmoud Abbas’s election, when we earned praise from international observers,” said the official.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has already acknowledged that Israel can do little to disrupt the elections in Hamas’s Gaza Strip stronghold after ending its 38-year military presence there last week.

Asked in a news conference Tuesday about earlier Israeli threats to disrupt the polls in the West Bank if Hamas stands, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged full cooperation.

“We would hope that the elections can go forward and that everyone will cooperate… because elections are fundamental to the continued evolution and development of the Palestinian process,” she said.

Rice reiterated the US view that there was a “fundamental contradiction” between Hamas’ armed activities and its plan to run in January’s election.

But she added: “We understand that the Palestinian political system is in transition, that it is in transition towards a democratic system and that has to be a Palestinian process.”

Meanwhile, Hamas on Wednesday rejected an appeal from the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations, or Quartet, to disarm before taking part in the poll.

“There is no link between carrying weapons and participating in elections,” Hamas said in a statement.

“We reject this call, which is an interference in internal Palestinian affairs aiming to provoke inter-Palestinian fighting,” it added.

“We think that the Quartet would do better to ask the enemy prime minister [Sharon] to put an end to the occupation of all Palestinian territories and release all Palestinian prisoners he is holding.”

Hamas’ retort came after UN Secretary General Kofi Annan read a statement on behalf of the Quartet saying that “ultimately, those who want to be part of the political process should not engage in armed group or militia activities.”

Shalom praised the Quartet for its “most positive statement,” saying that “no terrorist organisation can participate in the political process while it takes part in terrorist operations”.

Hamas, behind the majority of anti-Israeli attacks during the course of the five-year Palestinian uprising, did not stand in the first legislative elections a decade ago, due to its opposition to the Oslo autonomy accords.

However, its strong showing in recent municipal elections has persuaded the group to stand in what are only the second ever legislative elections and try to end the long domination of the governing Fateh movement.

Despite the threat posed by Hamas to Fateh’s dominance, Abbas has warned outsiders against interfering in internal Palestinian affairs.

“We know better than anyone else how to deal with our brothers,” he said Wednesday alluding to criticism levelled against Hamas by Annan for mixing arms with the ballot box.

Hamas is observing a truce but has refused to hand over its weapons in the aftermath of the historic pullout from Gaza, saying it will not disarm until Israel has been forced out of all Palestinian land.

A top army intelligence official told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that Palestinian fighters have managed to smuggle hundreds of weapons into Gaza since the Israeli pullout last week.

Although an internationally drafted peace plan has made next to no progress since its endorsement two years ago, its Quartet sponsors reiterated their commitment to the plan and a “truly viable” Palestinian state.

“We salute them for their support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state,” Abbas said.

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