- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

The United States said yesterday that it was sending envoys to the Middle East to help resolve a dispute that threatens to derail this month’s Palestinian elections.

The dispatch of two senior diplomats was announced as campaigning officially began in the Palestinian territories, although electioneering in East Jerusalem was blocked by Israeli police.

Israel has said it will not permit voting in the city because of the participation in the process of the militant group Hamas. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Monday that the election would not take place if Israel carried out its threat.

“We see no reason why those elections should not proceed on Jan. 25,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington yesterday.

“We believe that the Palestinian Authority should be concentrating on preparations for those elections, so that the Palestinian people can vote in an atmosphere that is free from violence or coercion or intimidation.”

Mr. McCormack noted that Israel had threatened previously to bar voting in East Jerusalem, which it annexed in the 1967 Middle East war, but that the two sides had been able to reach an agreement.

“We see no reason why the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government shouldn’t be able to come to some similar kind of accommodation for this round of voting, and we are going to be working with [them],” he said.

C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, and Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser for the region at the White House, will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories today to meet with officials on both sides, Mr. McCormack said.

“We believe that these elections should be for all the Palestinian people within the parameters as defined by the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

In East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want to be the capital of their future state, Israeli police yesterday beat some Palestinian campaigners with clubs and arrested seven, including a local leader of Mr. Abbas’ Fatah movement, wire service reports said.

Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby was quoted as saying the men had been released on bail after being questioned on “illegal activity by the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem.”

Israel allowed voting in East Jerusalem in the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in 1996, which Hamas boycotted.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who has joined current leader Ariel Sharon’s new coalition, told the Al Jazeera television network that a decision on voting in East Jerusalem had not been made.

“We are waiting to see what will happen on the Palestinian side,” he said, referring to internal Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip that also has threatened the elections.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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