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Palestinian presidential candidate arrested at border
A candidate in next month's Palestinian presidential election was detained briefly Friday by Israeli authorities after allegedly assaulting a border policeman at a checkpoint.
Bassam al-Salhi, who is running for the People's (formerly Communist) Party in the Jan. 9 election, was detained at the Al-Ram checkpoint near Jerusalem after being refused permission to enter the holy city.
Salhi was released on bail hours later, but police plan to charge him with assault and illegal entry.
Salhi's arrest is the second time this week a candidate has been detained by Israeli forces on the border.
Earlier this week human rights activist Mustafa Barghouti alleged he was beaten by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near the northern West Bank town of Jenin.
An official statement from the People's Party said Salhi had been "attacked and beaten" by the Israeli security services. An Israeli police spokesman said Salhi had been refused permission to pass the checkpoint as he did not have authorization to enter Jerusalem."
He added Salhi was arrested after he "assaulted a police officer with his hand."
In other election news, a team of Fatah members traveled to Israel for a meeting with imprisoned presidential hopeful Marwan Barghouti in what is seen as the latest attempt to persuade him to withdraw from the race.
Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for his role in deadly attacks but is almost neck and neck in opinion polls with leading candidate Mahmoud Abbas, is understood to be considering withdrawing his candidacy in a bid to preserve Palestinian unity.
Meanwhile, the European Union head office announced it will send at least 260 election observers to monitor Palestinian presidential elections planned for January.
Officials said 13 people preparing the mission were already in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as of this week.
The advance party is led by EU lawmaker and former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard, who also heads the overall mission.
Israel has been under heavy international pressure to enable free and fair elections to take place in all parts of the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.
Also Friday, the Israeli Army arrested four Islamist candidates standing in Palestinian municipal elections being held in the West Bank later this month.
The four, all relatives, were picked up in the Dahariyyeh area, near Hebron, one of about 20 municipalities holding elections on Dec. 23.
An Israeli military source said the four men were members of Hamas, which is participating in the local election despite its boycott of the presidential poll.
Israeli sources also said that eight other wanted Palestinians were arrested overnight across the West Bank. - Agencies