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Palestinians wrap up election campaign

January 18, 1996
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EST (2100 GMT)

From Correspondent Jerrold Kessel

campaign vans

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- The first Palestinian election campaign came to an end Thursday as candidates held their last rallies and wrapped up glad-handing before Saturday's voting. ( 213K QuickTime movie)

hanan ashrawi

For Palestinians who live in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, the election is especially sensitive. Palestinians are upset that Israel will provide only five voting sites for the 4,400 East Jerusalem residents. An Israeli human rights group criticized the government for infringing on the voters' "fundamental right" to participate in the election. Some candidates made their point by protesting at Israeli checkpoints, which hampered motorists who tried to get into the city.

Voters have a wide array of candidates to choose from. No fewer than 46 are competing for the seven seats in the Ramallah district; nearly 700 are vying for the 88 seats on the National Council.

signs

But few politicians lack confidence. "We will win," said a People's Party candidate, a communist, as he pressed the flesh Thursday.

"We have to work hard to get a victory," said Abdel Jawad Salah as he slogged through a rare, heavy snowfall in a final bout of campaigning. "This is a battle -- a hard battle."

Come Saturday, snow may be the least of problems for Salah, an independent candidate. He is seeking to beat the party machine of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

The race for the presidency is clear cut -- Arafat faces a little known challenger and is expected to win easily.

Abdel Jawad Salah

At least one candidate had special reason to be vexed on the final day of campaigning. Zahera Kamal was given a traffic ticket by Israeli police for talking on her cellular telephone while driving. "They want to try everything to break our nerve going into the election," she said.

The Islamic opposition and ultra-nationalists are boycotting the election, and election officials are concerned the bad weather could keep other voters away, too, allowing the boycotting groups to claim greater support than they actually have. But on the street, the weather didn't seem to be a problem for Palestinian voters who said nothing could keep them away from their very first elections.

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