Middle East

Palestinian court delays municipal elections after challenges

Palestinian walks out of the Palestinian Elections Commission in Gaza (8 September 2016) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Central Elections Commission said it would delay preparations for the polls after the ruling

A Palestinian court has postponed municipal elections that had been due to be held on 8 October.

The polls would have been the first electoral contest between the rival Fatah and Hamas movements for 10 years.

Their delay was ordered after lists of candidates for Fatah, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, were cancelled in parts of the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas.

Hamas has protested at the court's ruling, describing it as "political".

Fatah said it held Hamas fully responsible.

Political paralysis

Thursday's ruling by the high court in the West Bank city of Ramallah came after a Hamas-controlled court in Gaza disqualified several candidate lists drawn up by Fatah on technical grounds.

A challenge was also lodged by a lawyer over the inability to hold the vote in occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after seizing it in the 1967 war but Palestinians want to be the capital of a future state.

"Elections can't take place in one place and not the other," said the presiding judge.

"The elections can't take place in Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods. Also, there are problems with the formation of courts in Gaza... Therefore, the court decides to stop the elections."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri blamed Fatah for the delay.

"The high court decision is politically motivated and it came in order to rescue Fatah after its lists of candidates collapsed in a number of areas," he told the Reuters news agency.

But Osama al-Qawasmi of Fatah rejected the allegation, saying: "We hold Hamas fully responsible for foiling the election, starting with the unjustified petitions it filed."

The election would have been the first involving Hamas and Fatah since the 2006 poll for the Palestinian Legislative Council, in which Hamas won a majority.

A violent rift with Fatah saw the Islamist movement take control of Gaza the following year.

Although Fatah and Hamas formally agreed a unity deal and a technocratic government in 2014, deep divisions remain, resulting in political paralysis.