- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinian officials yesterday linked plans for a general election, which would require Yasser Arafat to face voters for the first time in six years, to an Israeli troop pullback and a lifting of travel restrictions.
Israeli officials said the conditions mean that Mr. Arafat, who is under growing pressure from abroad and at home to reform his government, is not serious about facing the voters.
In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers killed three persons: an Israeli Arab woman who was shot when soldiers opened fire on her taxi, a 7-year-old boy who was shot inside his home and an armed Palestinian who tried to infiltrate an Israeli settlement.
Israeli troops also raided the battle-scarred Jenin refugee camp and detained dozens of Palestinians. An Israeli soldier was wounded, the army said. A Palestinian man was killed in an explosion of a homemade bomb that was planted in the camp by fighters last month, sources in the camp said.
Israel wrapped up a six-week military offensive against Palestinian militias in the West Bank last week but has continued to carry out arrest raids, such as the one in the Jenin camp.
The incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas illustrate the difficulties the Palestinians would face in preparing for elections.
"We are looking to run the election within six months," said Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath, adding that work has begun on putting together the roster of 1.6 million eligible voters.
"But these elections need an Israeli withdrawal to the places before Sept. 28, 2000," Mr. Shaath added, referring to the date the current round of fighting erupted.
Such a withdrawal would require the Israelis to remove dozens of checkpoints and pull back forces outside major Palestinian cities. The checkpoints restrict most Palestinians to their hometowns, cities or villages.
Mr. Arafat, when asked yesterday whether elections could take place before an Israeli withdrawal, said: "Definitely not."
"It is very difficult to have elections with occupation," he said.
An Israeli official dismissed the Palestinian calls for a withdrawal. "On the one hand, he talks about reforms; now, he has an excuse not to execute those reforms," said Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "He knows very well that as long as he doesn't take any action against terrorism, the Israeli forces will have to remain there."
Mr. Arafat is under pressure from the United States, the European Union and his own people to reform the Palestinian Authority and to hold elections.
On Thursday, the Palestinian parliament demanded that the Cabinet be disbanded and a new one be formed within 45 days. It also called for elections by the beginning of 2003.
In the Jenin refugee camp, the scene of the heaviest fighting in the military offensive, Israeli soldiers surrounded the home of Jamal Abu Alhija, the local leader of the militant Islamic group Hamas. Mr. Alhija was not home, and the soldiers hurled grenades into the house, burning it to the ground, the military said.
Palestinians said 40 camp residents were detained, and the army said troops arrested 24 persons.
Last month, 23 Israeli soldiers and more than 50 Palestinians were killed in battles in the refugee camp.
[The Israeli troops also entered Jenin city yesterday and picked up Kamal Abu Al-Wafa, a leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting witnesses.
[Israeli tanks also rumbled into the West Bank towns of Tulkarm and El-Bireh, bordering Ramallah, late Thursday, Palestinian security officials said.]
In the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, Israeli soldiers fired tank-mounted machine guns at stone-throwing Palestinians yesterday, killing 7-year-old Amid Abu Sir, witnesses said. Six others were wounded, including three boys in their early teens, Palestinian doctors said. Amid was in his home, but the large-caliber bullets penetrated the house, witnesses and relatives said.
In the northern West Bank, soldiers killed an Israeli Arab woman who was driving in a car toward an Israeli army convoy, the army said. The military said the car was being driven "in a suspicious manner."
An armed Palestinian was killed in an exchange of fire with Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip when he tried to enter the Jewish settlement of Dugit, the Israeli military said. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the attempted infiltration.

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