གཟའ་ཉི་མ། ༢༠༢༤/༠༥/༢༦

Election Monitors Tour Israeli Checkpoints Ahead of Sunday's Palestinian Vote  - 2005-01-08

International election monitors toured Israeli military checkpoints and Palestinian voting sites Saturday, ahead of Sunday's presidential elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Election observers visited roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to see how easily Palestinians were able to pass. A key concern is maintaining access to the polls in a region marked by a divided Palestinian territory and numerous Israeli security checkpoints.

Israel has promised to ease travel restrictions and roadblocks for 72 hours and stop military operations in the Palestinian areas.

But Palestinian officials complained delays were continuing and said Israel had not fulfilled its promises. Israeli officials said they had never promised to lift restrictions altogether and stressed that security concerns come first.

Among the election monitors is former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has

urged Palestinian officials to conduct a peaceful, free and fair election. He said this could be an important opening to a resumption of peace talks. "This election will be a demonstration that there can be trustworthy negotiations in the future between the Israelis and the Palestinians to find some common ground," he said.

Israel asked Mr. Carter to warn the Palestinian Authorities to rein in militants to avoid precipitating an Israeli security crackdown.

Mr. Carter and former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt are among the leaders of an 80-member international delegation from the Washington-based National

Democratic Institute. The delegation is joined by official observers from the European Union, the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

An official U.S. monitoring group is also here, headed by Senators John Sununu and Joseph Biden.

Close to 1.8 million Palestinians are eligible to vote in Sunday's election. They have seven candidates to choose from for the position of president of the Palestinian Authority. Opinion polls indicate former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is the likely winner.

After the polls close Sunday night, monitors will follow the ballot boxes to election headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah and help certify the official results, expected on Monday.

There are about 800 international observers and 20,000 Palestinian monitors preparing for Sunday's election.