Sat, Jan 08, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Abbas cancels rally in Jerusalem

PALESTINIAN ELECTION The candidate in tomorrow's presidential poll decided not to stop in the city as Israel said it wanted to surround him with a large security force

AP AND THE GUARDIAN , RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

Interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas greets supporters while visiting the old city of Nablus in the West Bank on Thursday. Palestinians go to the polls tomorrow to elect a successor to the late Yasser Arafat. Abbas is the front-runner in the campaign.

PHOTO: AP

Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas canceled a campaign stop planned in Jerusalem, saying Israeli security arrangements would have embarrassed him, a campaign official said yesterday.

Abbas had been tentatively scheduled to travel to Jerusalem yesterday to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, hold a rally and tour the Old City.

The campaign official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel wanted to provide Abbas a large security detail, concerned that Jewish extremists might attack him.

Abbas decided on Wednesday that being surrounded by Israeli security forces during a stop in front of his own people would have been embarrassing, the official said.

Instead, Abbas planned a campaign stop in Beir Naballah, a Palestinian town on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Israeli police spokesman Gil Kleiman said no request had been received for Abbas to enter the city.

Abbas on Thursday declared that he hoped peace negotiations with Israel could resume soon after the winner of tomorrow's vote is declared on Monday.

Abbas said he viewed the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, as a potential partner in such peace talks. Earlier this week, Abbas irritated the Israeli government by referring to Israel as "the Zionist enemy."

The emolient words, which were welcomed by the Israeli government, came as Abbas and the other six candidates toured the West Bank and Gaza campaigning for tomorrow's election, the first for a Palestinian leader since Arafat was elected in 1996.

Speaking at a press conference in Nablus, a volatile city in the West Bank which suffered badly from an Israeli invasion ordered by Sharon two years ago, Abbas said: "After the elections, we will start negotiations. Ariel Sharon is an elected leader and we will negotiate with him. We will put the road map [the peace agreement drawn up by the UN, the US, the EU and Russia] on the table and say that we are ready to implement it completely."

Serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are unlikely until Sharon completes his planned withdrawal of soldiers and Jewish settlers from Gaza in the summer.

Palestinians attending rallies on Thursday, though enjoying the novelty of the election, were pessimistic about the chances of lasting peace and were divided about whether Palestinian militants should cease operations against Israel.

Abbas has been trying to secure a ceasefire agreement from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but the two militant groups -- both of which are boycotting the election -- have stepped up rocket and mortar attacks on Israel over the last week. They claim they are responding to Israeli attacks.

While polls indicate that Abbas will win 60-65 percent of the vote, he needs a big turnout to secure the kind of mandate that will help him face down Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The same polls put Mustafa Barghouti, an academic and human rights campaigner, in second place, on about 20 percent.

Barghouti, addressing students at Birzeit University outside Ramallah on Thursday, said voting for Abbas would be voting for a continuation of the old system whereas he promised to clean up democratic institutions, the judicial system and the economy.

He described the call for Hamas and Islamic Jihad to stop their attacks as "a mistake" by Abbas. "To expect there to be a complete ceasefire while the other side [Israel] keeps shooting is unrealistic," he said.

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