Palestinian Elections In Doubt

A Palestinian man stands next to an election campaign banner showing Yasser Arafat holding a poster of one of Fatah's top candidates, jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti, in the West Bank town of Ramallah Tuesday Jan. 3, 2006.
Palestinian parties launched their election campaign with banners, rallies and parades Tuesday, amid growing tensions between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas over his suggestion to postpone the Jan. 25 parliamentary vote.

Abbas said for the first time Monday that the vote could be put off if Israel bars Palestinians from voting in the sector of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital.

Gunmen have repeatedly seized Palestinian elections offices, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger. But of more concern to Abbas is that Hamas is expected to make a strong showing in the election. Hamas, which has most of the guns in Gaza, has warned that an election postponement will lead to a power vacuum and more chaos.

It is unlikely Abbas would postpone the election without Hamas' consent.

In Jerusalem, the head of Israel's Shin Bet security service told a parliamentary committee that a strong Hamas showing would spell "deep trouble" for Israel.

In other developments:

  • Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will turn over his duties to deputy premier Ehud Olmert for three hours, when he undergoes a heart procedure on Thursday, reports Berger. Doctors will perform a catheterization to repair a small hole in Sharon's heart, after he suffered a minor stroke two weeks ago. The procedure is described as routine and not life threatening.
  • The top Muslim cleric in the Holy Land on Tuesday called on Israel to halt work on an archaeological project near a disputed holy site, saying continuing the dig would inflame tensions in the region. The site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary.
  • Jewish settlers on Tuesday set fire to a Palestinian house and threw eggs and chemicals at Israeli soldiers after eight settler families were ordered to leave a market area they took over four years ago, Israeli officials said. The army says it will remove the Jews by force if necessary.
  • Israeli military chief Dan Halutz on Tuesday said that Iran's nuclear program "can be destroyed," Israel's Army Radio said. There were no further details.
  • Sharon's eldest son resigned his parliamentary seat on Tuesday, ahead of a Jan. 22 sentencing over charges of illegal fund-raising for his father's 1999 election campaign, a spokeswoman said. Omri Sharon pleaded guilty in November to falsifying corporate documents, perjury and violating party funding laws. Prosecutors are demanding imprisonment.