Decision on Palestinian elections September 21: minister

Hamas boycotted the last Palestinian municipal elections in 2012, but had been due to participate this year (AFP Photo/Pedro Ugarte)

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - The top Palestinian court is to decide on September 21 on the fate of keenly anticipated local elections after the latest attempt to hold polls was suspended, a minister said late Thursday.

Municipal elections had been scheduled for October 8 but were suspended by the high court on Thursday following disputes between the rival Fatah and Hamas movements.

It now remains to be seen if a new date will be set or if the vote will be shelved indefinitely.

"The Supreme Court will consider (the case) in a session on Wednesday 21 September and make a definitive and final decision," local government minister Hussein al-Araj told the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

"We will implement any decision of the court in accordance with the applicable laws."

Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, boycotted the last Palestinian municipal elections in 2012, but had been due to participate this year. Hamas has rejected the suspension, calling it a "political decision."

Fatah and Hamas have not contested an election since 2006 parliamentary polls, which Hamas won -- sparking a conflict that led to fierce fighting in Gaza the following year that saw Fatah forces ousted.

An attempt to hold local elections in 2010 was abandoned.

This year's vote was planned with 81-year-old president and Fatah leader Mahmud Abbas under heavy political pressure as opinion polls have suggested most Palestinians would like him to step down.

There has been no Palestinian presidential election since 2005 and Abbas has remained in office despite the expiry of his term in 2009.

The high court said it had suspended the elections after an appeal by lawyer Nael al-Houh.

Houh said his appeal was based on the fact that the elections were not being held in Jerusalem and over concerns related to polling in the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, a court run by Hamas cancelled Fatah candidate lists in several municipalities for "violating the election law", according to a judicial source and a spokesman for Fatah.

Jamal Dajani, a spokesman for the prime minister in the Fatah-run government in Ramallah, downplayed suggestions of political pressure to cancel the elections.

"We look at it as a judicial decision and not a political decision," he told AFP, saying the court had made its decision independently.

"The president, the prime minister and the central elections committee were proceeding with organising the elections for October 8."

Arif Jaffal, head of the Marsad elections monitoring group NGO, called Thursday's announcement a "sad day for Palestinians."

He said the electorate was "expecting the local elections to move towards (ending) the political stalemate between the West Bank and Gaza."