Wed, Jan 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Palestinians confident of peace on election day

AFP , RAFAH, GAZA STRIP

Security forces, candidates and voters on Gaza's volatile border with Egypt are confident that recent violence, which sparked calls for the Palestinian election to be shelved, will not rear its head again on polling day.

"All over the world there are problems with elections, but here there will not be problems," vows a police officer at the Rafah crossing into Egypt, declining to give his name.

"The military has orders and they will make sure that people vote freely," he said.

Much of the armed chaos that has reigned in the Gaza Strip since Israeli troops and settlers withdrew last year has happened in this impoverished area.

Earlier this month, two Egyptian border guards were killed in clashes with Palestinian gunmen as militants bulldozed through a section of the frontier.

Days earlier, a British aid worker and her parents were kidnapped in Rafah, incidents that led many to fear a flare-up during the election.

At one stage, Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei said the security chaos meant that the poll should be postponed, but appeals from the leadership of militant groups have led to a restoration of calm.

Security forces doubt there will be problems, if only because the different parties -- militant and political -- are aware the people here have had enough of violence, whether from Israel or between the Palestinians.

"We have had contacts with our partners, including Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and they said everything will be OK and pass peacefully," says police Colonel Ahmed Ismail Abu Nosira.

While most of the armed factions such as Al-Aqsa support the ruling Fatah faction, Abu Nosira says he welcomes the Islamist movement Hamas' participation after they boycotted the only previous Palestinian general election in 1996.

"We live in a democracy and we invite Hamas to join us in making decisions because we are one people with one religion. It's healthy to reflect all of the people," he said.

"We sat down with Fatah and talked about election day," says Ghazi Ahmad Hamad, a Hamas candidate who spent four years in prisons for "anti-occupation" activities.

"We hope it will be a very nice day," he said.

"We will vote and, God willing, there will be no problems," says a hardware shop owner who gave his name as Jafar.

"Then things will change -- maybe for good, maybe for bad," he said.

"All the Palestinian people want this process to be a success because it will lead us towards peace and a Palestinian state," said southern Gaza security commander Colonel Saleh Mahmud Riati.

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