PA Starts Registering Voters in East Jerusalem

The Palestinian Central Elections Committee began registering voters from East Jerusalem in preparation for the parliamentary elections on Wednesday.

Teachers from the Ibrahimi College staffed several booths and distributed authorization slips to voters.

According to the elections committee, 6,300 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are expected to vote within East Jerusalem and the city's outlying villages. Palestinian sources say there is still no agreement with Israel on whether voting booths will be stocked with ballot slips bearing the names of Hamas candidates.

European election observers began working yesterday. The head of the European Union mission, Veronique de Keyser, said that not all of the conditions needed for free and fair elections were in place but she hoped they would be by Wednesday. She said that some of the European observers had received threats, but measures were being taken to ensure their safety. She also noted that the observers were meeting with Hamas candidates in addition to those from other parties.

About 60,000 PA security forces yesterday began three days of voting. Their ballots will be counted only on Thursday, the day after the rest of the Palestinians go to the polls. A few irregularities were reported yesterday, such as electioneering at the polls and incidents in which security forces were brought to the polls by the PA, but overall voting went smoothly.

The Israel Defense Forces will scale back its arrest operations in the West Bank this week, and on Wednesday it will avoid entering Palestinian cities, with the exception of acting on warnings of imminent terror attacks and operations against the Islamic Jihad cells thought to be responsible for Thursday's suicide attack in Tel Aviv.

On Wednesday, the IDF will step up defensive measures in order to prevent attacks, and coordination with PA security forces will be heightened. Every checkpoint will be staffed by a representative of the Civil Administration in addition to the usual security forces, in order to expedite the passage of PA officials and foreign observers staffing the elections.

District commanders of the IDF and the PA held a liaison meeting last week to coordinate election-day activities. Israel will permit PA security forces in certain areas to carry weapons in order to guard polling stations and voters.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan yesterday urged Palestinians to exercise their right to vote in Wednesday's elections.

In a special "message to the Palestinian People," Annan encouraged Palestinians to use the ballot box "to help set the course for your future." He told the Palestinians that Wednesday's elections "will be an important milestone in your long and difficult history. I hope it will set you on the path to a more peaceful future, in which you at last have your own state and can live at peace with all your neighbors."

Annan complimented the PA electoral commission's "outstanding work under difficult circumstances" and said the Palestinians "deserve a free, fair and peaceful election."

"The international community is working with the Palestinian Authority to help it to ensure law and order. We believe that whether you live in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, you must be able to exercise your democratic rights," Annan said.

Annan reiterated the commitment of the UN and the Quartet members to the road map, "of which these elections are a part," and promised "to help you to achieve, by peaceful means, what you are entitled to: an end to the occupation, and a viable, contiguous, democratic State of Palestine, living at peace with a secure Israel."

Annan's message was interpreted by some observers as a departure from the convention that expressed the UN's concern about possible attempts by extremists to derails the elections.