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Deal Solves Voting Problem in Jerusalem

January 9, 2005

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Confusion over voter registration lists disrupted voting in Palestinian presidential elections in Jerusalem on Sunday, but a deal among Palestinians, international observers and Israel eventually solved the problem.

The observers and the Palestinians had complained that large numbers of registered voters were turned away from Jerusalem’s main polling station, hindering them from participating in the poll.

The Jerusalem voting has special significance because Israel and the Palestinians both claim sovereignty over the eastern part of the city. Israel captured the eastern sector, home to Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious sites, in 1967.

Some Israelis fear that holding Palestinian elections inside the holy city jeopardizes their sovereignty claims.

Many east Jerusalem Palestinians say they are reluctant to vote for fear of jeopardizing their fragile status under Israeli rule, which gives them access to services not available to other Palestinians.

Israel permitted about 5,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem to vote in the city, forcing the remainder of the 120,000 eligible voters to travel to outlying suburbs in the West Bank to vote.

At the main polling station in Jerusalem, vans from the ruling Fatah movement transported voters to villages outside the city.

``I would have loved to vote inside Jerusalem in freedom and without any fears,″ said Asma Shiyoukhi, a resident of Jerusalem’s old city who traveled to the suburb of Za’in to vote.

The voting in east Jerusalem took place at six post offices, where voters cast their ballots into red postal boxes _ a procedure that allows Israel to say they are mailing the ballots elsewhere rather than exercising sovereignty in the disputed area.

A spokesman for former President Jimmy Carter, the head of a group of international observers monitoring the poll, said Carter had worked out a deal with the Palestinian Central Election Commission and Israeli officials to allow voters registered in east Jerusalem to vote at any of the six post offices there.

``There have been problems in voting at east Jerusalem polling stations,″ said spokesman David Carroll. ``President Carter facilitated an arrangement worked out directly with the election commission and Israeli authorities.″

Baha al Bakri, spokesman for the Central Election Commission, confirmed the deal, but blamed Israel for deliberately manipulating the east Jerusalem voting process. Israeli officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The deal brokered by Carter did not increase the total of 5,000 allowed to vote inside Jerusalem.

Through midday, only a small number of Palestinians appeared to have voted at east Jerusalem’s main post office on the central thoroughfare of Saladin Street.

Seven postal windows were set up to receive voters, though at any given time no more than three or four people were casting their ballots. By contrast, two windows opened for regular postal business had long lines.

Police deployed hundreds of officers to prevent Jewish extremists from disrupting the vote. But they said officers would keep their distance from polling stations in response to Palestinian concerns of possible intimidation.

Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said officers broke up three small demonstrations by right-wing activists who tried to march on Palestinian polling stations.

International observers said there were no signs of intimidation.

Outside the Saladin Street post office, the Israeli police presence seemed light. Four armed border policemen were positioned at the side of the building, but they were well away from the entrance used by voters.

On adjacent streets, interest in the election seemed to be low. There were few election posters, and many passers-by said they had no interest in voting.

``I’m not voting. I’m caught between the Israel and the Palestinians. Whatever I do I’ll get in trouble,″ said a 36-year-old taxi driver he would only give his first name, Bahai.

But not all east Jerusalem residents were indifferent.

Jumana Khoury, 19, a Jerusalem native who studies at Loyola University in Chicago, was among those who voted.

``I wanted to do my part in resisting the occupation. This gives me a voice. It gives any occupied person a voice,″ she said.

Still, she added, ``the fact that it is in (an Israeli) post office is intimidating. It makes me think I’m out of my country.″

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