Emotions were hot in the holy, disputed city of Jerusalem during voting Wednesday for a new Palestinian parliament, with right-wing Israelis attempting to force their way into a polling station, hundreds of Palestinians chanting pro-independence slogans and Hamas militants defying an Israeli order against campaigning. About 75 Israeli police officers blocked two ultranationalist lawmakers and about a dozen other extremists from forcing their way into a Jerusalem post office where hundreds of Palestinians were voting. The Israelis oppose the holding of elections in east Jerusalem because they say it infringes on Israel's sovereignty over that sector of the city.
One of the lawmakers, Effi Eitam, accused acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of being in cahoots with Hamas to divide Jerusalem, a city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital.
"This morning Jerusalem was divided and it became the capital of Hamastan," Eitam told Army Radio. Hamas is poised for a strong showing in Wednesday's parliament vote, and some Israelis have used the term Hamastan to describe what they see as a militant takeover of the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed it to its capital.
Israel has agreed to allow Palestinians in east Jerusalem to vote as they did in two previous elections, but forbade Hamas, which has carried out dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, from campaigning here.
Several hundred voters packed the stairs leading to a Jerusalem post office waiting to vote, chanting songs and holding posters as Israeli police looked on. Some Palestinians waved signs such as "With our voice we can take back Jerusalem" and "No to occupation."
"People in Jerusalem are really far away from the situation in Palestine," said Islam Kabha, 31. "This is an occasion to feel that they are Arab people and Palestinian people."
U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden was heckled by a small group of men as he arrived at the post office to observe the vote. "We don't like your democracy in Iraq," the hecklers said. Biden, who said the voting was orderly, ignored the catcalls as he left the building.
Palestinians had feared that Israel would wipe the names of Hamas candidates off the ballots in Jerusalem but in the end the Israelis did not tamper with them, the chief of the Palestinian Elections Commission, Hanna Nasser, told a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Israel opposes the participation of Hamas in the elections and said it will not meet with Hamas officials if they become a part of the Palestinian government.
Former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia was stopped at an Israeli police roadblock Wednesday as he tried to enter Jerusalem to observe the elections, Qureia said. He turned back without entering the city.
Israeli authorities said Palestinian government officials must coordinate their entry into Jerusalem ahead of time. "He does this on a regular basis. In this case, we don't know why, he chose not to coordinate," said Lt. Adam Avidan, spokesman for the Israeli army's Civil Administration.
In northern Jerusalem, police arrested two Hamas members who were campaigning with Hamas posters, violating an Israeli stipulation that no Hamas propaganda be distributed in the city, Ben-Ruby said. Police also demanded the removal of Hamas banners in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Tzur Bacher, Ben-Ruby said. No arrests were made there, reports the AP.
The troops of the Southern and Western military districts will begin to return from Russia's southern borders to the points of their permanent deployment starting April 23