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Israeli bar on voting slammed
A Palestinian government official has criticised as illegal an Israeli supreme court decision to bar Palestinian prisoners from voting in Sunday's presidential elections.
"There is no legal basis to this decision. It's illegal and a political decision. This court merely supports the Israeli government's policy in refusing to let the prisoners participate in this election," the Palestinian minister for prisoner affairs, Hisham Abd al-Raziq, said on Thursday.
Israel's High Court of Justice rejected an appeal filed by Abd al-Raziq that Palestinians held in Israeli jails be allowed to vote in Sunday's ballot to elect a successor to Yasir Arafat.
"It's a fundamental right for all Palestinians to participate in this election. This decision violates Palestinian human rights, but we will work to guarantee the participation of all prisoners in the parliamentary elections," he added.
Legislative elections are to be held across the Palestinian territories next June.
In another development, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Thursday that Palestinians must introduce reforms before progress can be made on reviving the Middle East peace process.
Britain is to host a meeting in March on Palestinian reform, which Blair says could ease the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and lay foundations for a return to the road map for peace.
But some senior Palestinian officials, including Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya, have attacked the meeting and demands for reform, arguing instead for a full-scale peace conference with Israel.
"If Europe is going to put in money," Blair said, "we need to know that money will be properly used, there will be changes in security and political structures of the Palestinian Authority."
"I think the Palestinians have had enough sympathy - it's not sympathy they need, they need someone to act, and that's what I'm trying to do," Blair said.
He acknowledged Palestinian concern over the meeting but argued that reforms by the Palestinians were needed first, backing the position of Israel and the United States.
"We are not going to get a peace conference with the Israelis until we do the preparatory work. It's not going to happen," Blair said.
The London meeting will attempt to make those preparations and clear the way for final status negotiations, which is what
the Palestinians want, he said.