Palestinians report 93% voter registration for upcoming elections

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Fifteen years after Palestinians last went to the polls, some 93% of eligible voters in the West Bank and Gaza have registered for long-awaited elections, official figures showed on Wednesday.

Palestinians over 18 were eligible to register online, by phone or in person for parliamentary elections planned for May 22 and a presidential vote set for July 31.

The Central Election Commission said 2.6 million out of 2.8 million eligible voters did so before a Tuesday deadline.

In the previous Palestinian election, in 2006, around 80 percent of 1.6 million eligible voters registered but only about one million cast ballots, the commission said.

There has been widespread scepticism that the ballots will actually go ahead, after years of enmity between the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Hamas Islamists, who run Gaza.

The 2006 ballot ended in a surprise win by Hamas, which was running for the first time in parliamentary elections. A power struggle ensued and in 2007 the militant group seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, 85, is expected to run in the new presidential election.

Palestinians also plan for this year’s ballots to take place in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in a 1967 war and annexed in a move that has not won international recognition.

Israel allowed Palestinians to vote in East Jerusalem in 2006.

Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Nick Macfie