Palestinians ask Europe to send monitors for elections

Palestinian election officials on Sunday invited the European Union to send observers to monitor upcoming elections planned for the Palestinian legislature and presidency.

The elections are seen as an important step toward ending a rift that has left the Palestinians divided between rival governments since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007. The PA has governed only autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank since then.

Past attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed. But Sunday's invitation to the European Union was a sign that the Palestinians are serious about holding what will be their first elections in 15 years.

The Central Elections Commission said its chairman, Hanna Nasir, extended the invitation for both the European Union and the European Parliament to send monitors. It said the invitation was given to the local EU representative, Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorf, and Nasir “stressed the importance of international observation to the electoral process, particularly by the EU.”

The Palestinians are looking to the EU to ensure that the vote is transparent, and also in hopes of rallying pressure on Israel to allow Palestinians in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to vote.

The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a future state. Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital. It has not said whether it will allow Palestinian residents in east Jerusalem, home to the city's major religious sites, to vote in Palestinian elections.

The EU supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, with a capital in east Jerusalem.

The EU did not officially respond to the monitoring request. But Shadi Othman, spokesman for the EU office to the Palestinians, confirmed the EU's “readiness to provide everything possible for the success of the electoral process.”

“The goal during the coming period is to make all efforts to reach free and fair elections that produce elected representatives from the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip,” he said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas issued his decree on Jan. 15, scheduling parliamentary elections for May 22 and presidential elections on July 31.

Uncertainty about voting in east Jerusalem is one of several potential obstacles that could derail the planned election. Representatives from Abbas' Fatah party and Hamas are expected to meet in Egypt next month in hopes of working out logistics.

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