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Attacks in West Bank heighten tension before vote

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday in Jenin and, in a separate attack, Palestinian gunmen fired on the Ramallah home of Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Yousef.

The suicide bomber killed only himself, and the gunmen injured two of Yousef's bodyguards, sources said.

Yousef was not hurt, and it was unclear if he was home at the time of the attack.

Three of the gunmen, all militants belonging to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, were arrested after police set up roadblocks and began inspecting cars, said Alah Housney, the Palestinian chief of police.

It is not yet clear what the gunmen wanted. In recent weeks Palestinian gunmen in Gaza and the West Bank have taken over police stations, abducted aid workers and tourists and attacked the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

No one was hurt in Thursday's suicide bombing. Israeli military sources said the bomber walked out of a house and approached Israeli troops who were carrying out an operation to arrest militants.

Israel has said the recent attacks are a sign that the Palestinian Authority is losing control, especially in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told two U.S. envoys Thursday that Israel expects Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to have a detailed plan for disarming terrorist groups immediately after the January 25 Palestinian legislative elections.

The Palestinian Authority has threatened to call off the elections because the Israeli government said it would not allow Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to vote at post offices, a method they have used in past elections.

Abbas later said the elections would go on as scheduled after he received assurance from U.S. authorities that voting would be allowed in East Jerusalem.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert eased tensions somewhat on Wednesday when he said he would submit the issue for Cabinet approval.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has objected to Palestinians casting votes in East Jerusalem because candidates from the Islamic fundamentalist group, Hamas, are running. (Full story)

Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. Israel considers Hamas, which is poised to make major gains in the elections, a terrorist organization.

Olmert said he was putting the issue before the Cabinet because Hamas personnel and materials will not be used in Jerusalem voting.

Without the option of voting at post offices, Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem would have to travel to the West Bank to vote.

The agreement to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote at post offices was reached between Israel and the Palestinians as part of their 1993 agreements in Oslo, Norway.

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