Palestinians prepared to vote for only their second elected leader as Israel eased restrictions in the occupied territories on the eve of a ballot set to be won at a canter by PLO chairman &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/diplomatic/2003/02/21/43571_.html ' target=_blank>Mahmud Abbas. As the ballot boxes were delivered to hundreds of polling stations across the West Bank and &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/hotspots/2001/11/05/20124.html ' target=_blank>>Gaza Strip, security sources reported that the Israelis were opening up checkpoints which had been closed to all but taxis for months.
Despite earlier threats to the contrary, there were no signs of troops in Palestinian population centers as the Israeli government apparently made good on its pledge to keep a low profile until at least Monday night, wrote the Turkish Press.
Palestinian officials said the vote would be the first in a series of elections for new officials, and on Saturday caretaker &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/hotspots/2002/07/19/32844.html ' target=_blank>Palestinian Authority President Rauhi Fattouh set July 17 as the date of long-delayed legislative elections. That vote had been expected to be held in May, but Fattouh said he changed the date so it would not interfere with school exams. The last legislative elections were held in 1996.
Election observers that toured the region Saturday said freedom of movement had improved at many major roadblocks, but there were some new checkpoints in the northern West Bank that made passage through that area difficult.
"We're finding today a very inconsistent story," said Les Campbell, spokesman for the team of observers from the National Democratic Institute, an American organization. "We're going to try and make some constructive suggestions (to Israel) and hope that things will be better tomorrow", reports San Francisco Chronicle.
An explosion of household gas occurred in a nine-storeyed apartment building in the city of Shakhty, the Rostov region of Russia. The blast destroyed two storeys of the building