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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Jan. 8, 1996 V4, #1
All the News the Big Guys Missed

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Elections Could be Affected by Hamas Death

By Patricia Golan (VOA-Jerusalem)

On Jan. 20, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem will elect 88-members of an Autonomy Council and the president of the Palestinian Authority, who will also have a seat in the Council. PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat hopes the elections will give legitimacy to his peace process with Israel. The balloting will give Palestinians their first taste of democracy. But as the 700 candidates intensify their campaigns for these unprecedented elections, the average Palestinian is wondering what it is about.

In a drafty church auditorium in the tiny West Bank village of Aboud, a school teacher explains the basics of the upcoming elections to a group of 70 men.

Holding up mock ballots he explains one slip is for voting for the candidates for the Council, the other for the president. If you write anything except an "X" in the appropriate box, he warns, your vote will be void -- no writing greetings, no writing numbers or names, just an "X".

After an initial period of embarrassment, the men begin to enjoy the simulation. One-by-one the men walk up to the mock polling station and present their identity cards to the man pretending to be the registrar. The pretend assistant marks down the name and number, hands the man two slips to take to the voting booth. The votes for the pretend candidates are counted at the end of the session.

The voting workshop for the Palestinians' first national voting experience is conducted by Palestinians, but has been organized by the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Project coordinator Hania Aswad explains most Palestinians have never voted in an election.

Another US-based organization involved in educating for democracy here is the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs which sees its mission as involving people in the political process.

Institute program officer Mark Mollen says much of the civic education program uses posters and the media. "The difficulty here is that Palestinians are very sophisticated consumers of information, and are incredibly conscious of source. For example, if you put up a poster, most Palestinians will look at who printed it and ask questions like who is paying for this, why are they doing this, what particular ax do they have to grind, and often ignore whatever is on the poster itself."

Mollen says NDI has had more success with small discussion groups which give people a chance to express their opinions and concerns. He says women, especially, talk about the problem of husbands telling wives how to vote.

A general strike in the West Bank and Gaza called to protest the killing Friday of top Palestinian terrorist Yehia Ayash has temporarily halted the campaign for the elections. Palestinians blame Israel for the assassination.

Israel has imposed a closure on the West Bank and Gaza in response to possible retaliatory attacks. Hamas and other Islamic groups previously said they would boycott the elections; it is unclear how the killing of Ayash will affect the actual voting on election day.

In the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Hamas activists took to the streets in unprecedented numbers Saturday to call for revenge for the killing of Ayash -- said to be the mastermind behind a series of suicide bomb attacks in Israel. Ayash, nicknamed "The Engineer", was killed apparently by a booby-trapped telephone.

At his funeral in gaza, more than 100,000 angry mourners swore vengeance for the death of a man regarded by many Palestinians as a legend and an inspiration. Mourners shouted for a Jihad, a Holy War against Israel which is blamed for the killing. Thousands marched in towns in the West Bank and also called for revenge.

The death of Ayash was welcome news for Israeli officials. They considered him number one on their most-wanted list. He was held responsible for the planning of at least seven suicide bomb attacks that killed at 55 people and left hundreds wounded. The Islamic militant organization, Hamas took credit for most of the bombings, aimed at undermining the Israeli-PLO peace process.

Israeli security experts considered Ayash not only a master of preparing explosives but gifted at persuading young men to volunteer for suicide missions, becoming martyrs in the eyes of islamic groups.

Although Israeli officials neither confirm nor deny responsibility, it is widely assumed by both Palestinians and Israelis that Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Service, was behind the killing. Israeli agents in the past have used telephone bombs to kill suspected terrorists.

Palestinian police say they believe the man who gave Ayash the booby-trapped cellular telephone has escaped to Israel. They name him as Osama Hammad, the son of the owner of the house where Ayash was hiding out.

Israel has put its forces on high alert and has set up additional roadblocks around the country to thwart possible revenge attacks. The army issued orders preventing Israelis from entering any area in the West Bank and Gaza now under the control of Palestinians.

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