New year, old problems

03 January 2003
The start of the New Year saw no let up in the cycle of violence in the occupied territories. And, with Israel's general elections only weeks away, many Palestinians fear that the Israeli army tactics will become increasingly heavy-handed in order to create an impression of calm for the Israeli voting public.

Israeli troops and tanks entered three refugee camps in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of 2 January prompting heavy exchanges of gunfire with armed Palestinian fighters. The raids came a day after the Israeli army shot dead four Palestinians who, the army says, had been trying to infiltrate Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

Despite the continuing bribery scandal surrounding Israel's ruling Likud party, the right-wing group, led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, is still expected to romp to victory in the 28 January elections. However, the allegations of vote-buying are expected to cost Likud as many as 10 seats in the Knesset (parliament).

The party has already lost its deputy infrastructure minister Naomi Blumenthal to the affair. She was sacked by Sharon on 31 December because of her refusal to co-operate with the police.

Blumenthal will not be the only politician prevented from standing for office. Israel's election commission on 1 January announced that the prominent Arab Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara will be barred from contesting the elections. Bishara, who has repeatedly spoken of the rights of the Palestinians to resist occupation, has fallen foul of a new law allowing the Knesset to expel politicians for supporting armed resistance. Bishara denies that he has called for an armed struggle.

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