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The Palestinian Court of Appeals yesterday rejected a petition against the Palestinian Central Election Committee's decision to allow people to vote on the basis of their identification cards, even if they did not appear in the Population Registry.

The court said that the appellant, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), must await the election committee's response to its complaint before turning to the legal system.

Shortly before the polls were due to close Sunday night, the Central Election Committee decided to extend the voting by two hours and to allow people to vote on the basis of their ID cards, even if they did not appear in the Population Registry. This decision contradicted the Palestinian election law.

Supporters of the decision say that it was justified because the Oslo Accords gave Israel control over the original of the Palestinian Population Registry; the Palestinians have only a copy, which cannot be changed or updated. Therefore, they argue, the registry has become out of date, and many eligible voters do not appear on it.

But opponents charge that the change enabled Fatah, the party of winning candidate Mahmoud Abbas, to make use of forged ID cards and engage in double voting and other forms of electoral fraud.

They say that Fatah requested the change because voter turnout until then had been very low.

Attorney Raji Sourani, who heads the PCHR, did not ask the court to invalidate the election results, as he believes that the use of ID cards did not significantly change the outcome. However, he considered it important to obtain a ruling in principle that the decision was illegal.