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Majority of East Jerusalem Palestinian residents can vote in polls: commission

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The majority of Palestinian residents of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem can vote in the first Palestinian legislative elections in 15 years set for next month, the electoral commission announced on Monday.

However, several thousand may yet still be excluded, amid ongoing concerns that the landmark vote might not get off the ground at all.

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Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem are set to vote in the legislative polls on May 22, ahead of a planned presidential vote in July.

In a statement, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission said 150,000 voters in east Jerusalem will be able to cast ballots at polling stations on the outskirts of the holy city, in a process that does not require a green light from Israel.

Separately, a symbolic total of 6,300 voters are allowed to cast their ballots in east Jerusalem itself, in post offices under Israeli supervision, according to protocols that Israel and the Palestinians signed as part of the Oslo peace accords.

Palestinians say it is critical to allow even limited voting inside the bounds of east Jerusalem, which they hope will be the capital of their future state.

While Israel granted approval for voting in post offices in the 2006 legislative elections, they have not signaled that they will do so this time around, according to elections commission spokesperson Fareed Taamallah.

“They didn’t respond to the request from the Palestinian Authority to implement the protocol,” he said.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not comment on the demand that all Palestinians be allowed to vote in line with established “protocol.”

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, 86, has said elections would not be able to proceed if Palestinians in east Jerusalem are not able to vote.

Attorney Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to Palestinian negotiators, said on Monday the east Jerusalem vote could still prove a stumbling block to elections, not only due to potential voting restrictions.

“There’s a lot of technical things you can do to get around these hurdles -- but that’s not the point,” she said.

The point is that candidates expect to “be able to go to Jerusalem, campaign in Jerusalem, vote in Jerusalem. Without those guarantees I can see that being a reason for them to want to cancel [elections],” she said.

About 60 candidates in the Palestinian elections are from east Jerusalem.

Israel generally bars Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem, and over the weekend it briefly arrested three candidates who were planning to meet in the city.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967 and views the whole city as its capital.

Palestinian voters say they hope the elections can bring about an internal reconciliation between their two main political factions -- Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Voters are set to choose from among 36 lists, including one from Hamas and several from Fatah.

Read more: Facing the first elections since 15 years, young Palestinians demand reforms