01/07/2005, 00.00
PALESTINE

Palestinians vote amidst hopes and uncertainties

Sunday, January 9, Palestinians will cast a ballot to choose Arafat's successor. Expected winner Mahmoud Abbas tones down anti-Israel rhetoric and pledges a "ceasefire" after the elections.

Ramallah (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Mahmoud Abbas called off a scheduled rally in Jerusalem for security reasons. In a separate development, his main opponent in the presidential campaign to replace Arafat, Mustafa Barghouti, was detained and expelled from Jerusalem after trying to reach al-Aqsa mosque to pray.

Frontrunner Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) tried several times this morning to enter Jerusalem to hold a rally and pray at the al-Aqsa mosque but was prevented by Israeli security forces concerned that he might be the target of Jewish extremists.

Mr Abbas said he "was postponing his visit to Jerusalem" but did not give any details as to when it might take place.

Israeli security officials said they had not received any request for another visit.

Worse luck for Mustafa Barghouti who was detained for a second time trying to get into Jerusalem since the election started. Israeli soldiers exhorted him back to a checkpoint leading to the West Bank.

Who controls Jerusalem is one of the sticking point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinians claim sovereignty over the eastern part of the city occupied by Israeli in the 1967 War. Israelis claim sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem—a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims—which they consider the capital of their state.

Israel will allow Palestinians living in East Jerusalem to vote in the upcoming elections but only a few will be able to do so in the city itself—most will have to travel to voting stations on the city's outskirts.

Mr Abbas reiterated his willingness to negotiate with Israel after the elections toning down the rhetoric he used a few days ago when he called Israel, the "Zionist enemy".

The Israeli government expects the new Palestinian leadership to "take the necessary measures" to curb terrorism, a step it consider essential to resume peace talks.

Mr Abbas has condemned Palestinian violence as "counterproductive" but rejects Israel's demand that he act against militants preferring a "ceasefire" with Israel.

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