Page last updated at 18:48 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

Israel disqualifies Arab parties

Israeli-Arab members of Knesset Ahmed Tibi (right) and Mohammed Barakah - 7/12/2008
MP Ahmed Tibi called Israel's attacks on Gaza an election strategy

Israel's election authorities have voted to ban two of the three main Arab political parties from running in next month's general elections.

The Central Election Committee (CEC)voted overwhelmingly to ban the United Arab List-Ta'al (UAL-Ta'al) and Balad, accusing them of supporting terrorism.

An MP for UAL-Ta'al said the move was racist and he would appeal against it.

Arabs make up about a fifth of Israel's population and hold 12 of 120 seats in the Knesset, or parliament.

Israeli Arabs have full citizenship but often complain they suffer from discrimination.

'Election strategy'

The 30-member panel voted 26-3 with one abstention to disqualify Balad, and voted 21-3 with eight abstentions to disqualify UAL-Ta'al.

The committee is composed of representatives from Israel's major political parties.

The measure was proposed by the National Union and Israel Beiteinu, two ultra-nationalist parties.

The motion claimed the two Arab parties supported terrorism and "did not recognise Israel's existence as a Jewish and democratic state", Knesset spokesman Giora Pordis told the AFP news agency.

The Israeli high court has until Friday to rule on the decision - the deadline for submitting Knesset lists.

The Arab members of the committee walked out of the session before the vote was held, after a stormy debate about the Israeli military's operations in Gaza.

"This racist government want us out of the Knesset during the war on Gaza," Mr Tibi told the BBC's Fouad Abu-ghosh.

"They are accusing us of supporting the terror while they are killing children in Gaza," he added.

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