Archive for Saturday, January 8, 2005

Israel beefs up security for Palestinian election

January 8, 2005

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— As hundreds of international observers arrived to monitor Sunday's Palestinian presidential election, Israeli officials Friday began putting in place the security measures they hope will facilitate the voting.

Poll-watchers include 260 representatives from the European Union, led by former Prime Minister Michel Rocard of France, and more than 80 from the United States. The U.S. team is a partnership between the National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based volunteer group committed to advancing democracy worldwide, and Atlanta's Carter Center, headed by former President Jimmy Carter.

Carter met Friday with Israeli President Moshe Katsav and called for a peaceful vote.

"My hope is that the Palestinians establish a government that will be committed to the peace process and the abhorrence and prohibition and control of any violence," he said.

More than 1.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are registered to vote for a successor to Yasser Arafat, who died Nov. 11.

"Israel is committed to the democratic principle of free elections and has no wish to be involved in any way in the elections process. ... These are Palestinian elections and must reflect the will of the Palestinian electorate," Foreign Ministry spokesman Amir Maimon said earlier this week. "Nevertheless, the ongoing threat presented by terrorist attacks that have taken more than 1,000 lives in the past four years cannot be ignored."

Although Israel has "concrete" information about attacks being planned "in order to sabotage the election day and blame Israel for it," Lt. Col. Yorai Kadar of the Israeli army said Wednesday, there is a plan in place, including joint Israeli-Palestinian "operations rooms" in the West Bank and Gaza, to handle problems as they come up. Kadar offered no details.

For 72 hours today through Monday, Israel's army, which exercises military control over the territories, will keep a low profile "to reduce friction," he said.

Routine patrols inside Palestinian cities will be suspended, Kadar said, but any so-called ticking bomb -- known planned suicide attack -- that is not thwarted by Palestinian security will be handled by Israel.

"If the Palestinians do not take actions against these terrorist threats, we will need to do so ourselves," he said.

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