Israel threatens to scrap poll measures
* Palestinians accuse Israel of failing to ease restrictions for vote
* Election observers tour checkpoints to see facilities
JERUSALEM: Israel threatened on Saturday to cancel plans to ease restrictions on the Palestinian territories for the presidential election following a West Bank shooting attack that left a soldier dead, public radio reported.
“Israel warned the Palestinian Authority that it could scrap the measures to ease the restictions for the ballot, following the attack that killed a soldier,” the radio said.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s top aide Dov Weisglass passed on the message to chief election observers Jimmy Carter and Michel Rocard. The two are expected to convey the message to Mahmud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and overwhelming favourite to succeed Yasser Arafat, at a meeting on Saturday on the eve of the Palestinian election, the radio said.
A soldier was killed and four other Israelis wounded Friday in the northern West Bank in a shooting claimed by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of the dominant Palestinian movement Fatah. Israel had announced its troops would keep a low profile during 72 hours as of Saturday in order to facilitate the only the second Palestinian presidential elections. Some roadblocks have been removed and senior officers posted at the remaining checkpoints in a bid to allow Palestinians to travel more freely from their homes to polling stations.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority accused Israel of failing to ease restrictions in the Palestinian territories on the eve of Sunday’s landmark presidential election. “The situation on the ground is the same. Nothing has changed and the roadblocks are still there,” Palestinian negotiations minister Saeb Erakat told AFP.
“We call on the Israeli government to deliver on its commitment by lifting roadblocks and pulling out its troops,” he said. Erakat argued that “the continued presence of roadblocks and closures poses a serious threat to the holding of free and fair elections tomorrow.”
Israel had announced its troops would keep a low profile during 72 hours as of Saturday in order to facilitate only the second Palestinian presidential election.
According to the Israeli army, some roadblocks were due to be removed and senior officers posted at remaining checkpoints in a bid to allow Palestinians to travel more freely from their homes to polling stations. Israeli public radio reported that the government was reconsidering its plans to loosen its noose on the territories folowing a Palestinian shooting attack in the West Bank that left one soldier dead and four other Israelis wounded.
Observers tour checkpoints: International observers were touring army roadblocks in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Saturday to check whether Israel kept a promise of easing Palestinian travel during a weekend election.
Israel had pledged to ease restrictions a day ahead of Sunday’s presidential election for replacing the late Yasser Arafat. However, Palestinian officials complained that troop deployment and checkpoint procedures had not changed. At one Gaza checkpoint, hundreds of cars were waiting Saturday morning. Palestinians reported that a 60-year-old taxi passenger was killed by army fire at the barrier. The army said soldiers fired at a gunman approaching on foot.
Israeli military officials said an effort was being made to speed up passage through roadblocks, but that security remained the top priority.
On Friday, Palestinian gunmen killed a soldier and wounded three in an ambush near the West Bank city of Nablus, prompting Israel to warn Palestinian leaders that it would reconsider its promise if an easing of restrictions is exploited by militants. Israel delivered the warning through international observers headed by former US President Jimmy Carter and former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, according to a spokesman for Carter’s team, Les Campbell.
Observer teams were touring checkpoints Saturday to see whether restrictions were indeed being eased, Campbell said. Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said nothing and changed on the ground, and that Israel was not keeping its promise. agencies