Election office raids show splits in Fatah

December 14, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian gunmen stormed four election offices in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank yesterday, adding to the climate of political instability in advance of parliamentary elections planned for next month.

Dozens of masked gunmen belonging to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement fired into the air and then burst into election offices in Gaza City. The gunmen said they were upset with the candidates whom Abbas and the Fatah leadership plan to enter in the election. The gunmen took to the roof and locked the door, though they eventually left.

Armed Fatah men also charged into two other election offices in Gaza and one in the West Bank city of Nablus, where they stole a computer and a television. No injuries were reported in any of the incidents.

"This is a peaceful step to protest the policy of appointments within Fatah," said Abu Eyad, a spokesman for the gunmen.

In response, the chief Palestinian election official, Amar Dwik, ordered all election offices closed and their activities suspended. The move came the day before tonight's deadline for parties to submit their candidates for the Jan. 25 elections. No new deadline was set.

The gunmen "asked our staff to leave the offices; they started to shout and even shoot inside the offices," Dwik told the Associated Press in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "We call upon the Palestinian Authority to assume its responsibilities and to provide security."

Abbas' office released a statement calling on the security forces "to take the necessary measures to arrest the perpetrators."

The president also urged the election commission to "resume its work to save the elections and ensure the success of the Palestinian democratic process."

While various Palestinian factions have clashed with the Palestinian Authority, yesterday's turmoil reflected worsening tensions inside Fatah, which has dominated Palestinian politics for decades.

The gunmen said they were upset by reports that Fatah's list of candidates would be made up mostly of old guard Fatah members with close ties to the leadership, rather than younger members who have been demanding more prominent positions.

The official Fatah list has not been announced.

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