Israeli authorities shut down Palestinian election offices

Voter registration lists seized in police raids at 6 sites in East Jerusalem

September 14, 2004|By Joel Greenberg | Joel Greenberg,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

JERUSALEM - Israeli police shut down six Palestinian voter registration offices in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem yesterday in the latest round of the struggle for this contested city.

The offices were opened this month at the start of a five-week voter registration drive launched by the Palestinians as a step toward future elections in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The first scheduled elections, for municipal councils, will begin in December and continue in four phases through 2005. No date has been set for legislative and presidential elections.

General elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were first held eight years ago, in accordance with the 1993 Oslo interim accords on Palestinian self-rule. Palestinians from East Jerusalem voted in that election with Israel's agreement.

Palestinians claim East Jerusalem - captured by Israel along with the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war - as the future capital of their hoped-for state. But Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asserts that all of Jerusalem, including its Arab neighborhoods, will remain forever united as Israel's capital.

Since the outbreak of the current violence between Israelis and Palestinians nearly four years ago, Israeli authorities repeatedly have shut down offices in East Jerusalem that they said were operated by the Palestinian Authority in violation of the interim accords.

The voter registration offices were run by the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, whose members were appointed by the Palestinian Authority.

A closure order signed by Israel's acting minister of public security said the opening of the offices without the permission of Israeli authorities violated an Israeli law on implementing the Oslo accords that bars the Palestinian Authority from operating in Jerusalem.

Under the accords, the Palestinian Authority runs parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but has no jurisdiction over Jerusalem, whose final status was left to future negotiations.

Police officers who shut down the East Jerusalem offices seized voter registration lists as well as registration materials, police and elections officials said. Several people working in the offices were detained for questioning.

Baha Bakri, a spokesman for the elections commission, said police had raided the registration offices before, photocopying voter lists and questioning employees. The raids had deterred many East Jerusalem residents from registering, he said.

"Elections should be free and fair, and these measures interfere with free elections," he said.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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