,GAZA/RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinians took another step in preparations for their first parliamentary election in 15 years on Saturday, opening registration offices to admit the political parties and independent candidates that will take part. The May 22 election in the West Bank and Gaza is part of a broader push for reconciliation between President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction and rival Islamist group Hamas. This is seen as vital to building broader support for any future statehood talks with Israel, frozen since 2014. The last time a parliamentary ballot was held in 2006, Hamas emerged as the surprise victor. A power struggle ensued, and in 2007, after weeks of fighting that left dozens dead, the Islamist group seized control of Gaza from forces loyal to Abbas. Abbas' authority has limited control over the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Some 93% of the 2.8 million eligible voters in the West Bank and Gaza have registered for the polling. The total population in the Palestinian territories is 5.2 million. Israel has yet to respond to a Palestinian request to allow balloting to take place in East Jerusalem, Palestinian officials said. Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem in a 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition. It did allow voting there in 2006. Unlike in the 1996 and 2006 elections, Palestinians will not be voting for individual candidates, rather for parties or lists that contain between 16 and 132 candidates. Farid Taamallah, a spokesman of the Palestinian Central Election Commission, said on Saturday that officials had so far registered two electoral lists. Registration ends on March 31. REUTERS
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