EL-BIREH, West Bank - Candidates vying to succeed the late Yasser Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority in tomorrow's election finished their campaigns yesterday, with front-runner Mahmoud Abbas saying he was confident that he and Israel could agree to a formal cease-fire in more than four years of violence.
Another candidate, Mustafa Barghouti, who is believed to be Abbas' only serious rival, was briefly detained by Israeli police and expelled from Jerusalem when authorities said he tried to enter the Old City and hold a rally on the Temple Mount during Friday prayers.
And in the West Bank, gunmen affiliated with the armed wing of Abbas' party, Fatah, ambushed an Israeli car and killed an occupant near Nablus, where Abbas had urged militants Thursday to stop their attacks.
At his first and only campaign news conference, Abbas skirted questions about how he would dismantle militant groups and end attacks such as last night's, as demanded by Israel. He said only that he is confident of obtaining a cease-fire and incorporating the militias into mainstream political parties.
"There is a legitimate resistance," he said, noting the political difficulties of confronting popular militant groups. "We have also called for the end of chaos of the weapons. We want a political structure that represents the full mosaic of Palestinian society, so they will live in a dignified way, and we will save our souls as well."
Abbas recalled his short-lived stint as prime minister under Arafat, a post he quit in 2003 after serving only four months. He blamed Arafat for undermining reform efforts and the United States and Israel for failing to quickly ease restrictions on Palestinians.
He urged Israel and other countries to act differently if he is elected.
"The replies to us have to come a soon as possible," Abbas told reporters. "Delaying has caused the collapse of my previous government. The Israelis as well, if they don't act quickly, then we are in a position of very serious consequences."
About 1.8 million Palestinians are registered to vote in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem - out of a total population of 3.6 million. Voters will cast ballots at 3,400 polling stations for one of seven candidates. Polls forecast Abbas winning about 65 percent of the vote; Barghouti is projected to win 22 percent.
Abbas canceled plans to visit Jerusalem, home to about 200,000 Palestinians. Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state; Israel regards Palestinian political activity there as a threat to its sovereignty.
Abbas told reporters that he would visit Jerusalem later. His aides said that Israeli police insisted on a large force to protect Abbas from both Palestinian and Jewish extremists, and the candidate was uneasy about being seen guarded by Israelis. He instead visited a village on Jerusalem's outskirts, Beir Naballah,
Tomorrow's election will be a test of Israeli and Palestinian cooperation; officials representing the two sides have met almost daily for the past two weeks to coordinate the voting.
As of this morning, the Israeli army is to begin pulling troops out of Palestinian cities and leave some checkpoints unmanned to allow people to travel freely to vote and to move ballot boxes. Israeli officials are allowing armed Palestinian police to escort trucks carrying ballots to Ramallah.
"We will do everything possible to ensure they can have a free and democratic election," Israeli Army Lt. Col. Yorai Kadar said this week. "We hope that the Palestinian militants do not try and take advantage of this easement of restrictions. We have concrete information that they are planning to carry out attacks on Election Day."
Watching over the election will be thousands of monitors given special badges and license plates to ensure that they can freely travel throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
The Carter Center is coordinating an 80-member multinational delegation led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He is joined by former Swedish Prime Minster Carl Bildt and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.
The European Union has 260 observers here, 40 of whom have watched preparations for the past month. That team, led by former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, includes 30 members of the European Parliament.
The U.S. Department of State is sending its own delegation, led by Sens. John E. Sununu of New Hampshire and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware.
The EU and American monitoring teams plan to release preliminary assessments of the election Monday.