Palestinian President Yasser Arafat promised that Parliament and president elections would take place this winter.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Election committee launched a voter registration drive, a first step towards the long waited for elections.

Early reports indicated that turn out at the 1,000 voter registration centers on Saturday was light.

The only and last Palestinian general elections were held in January 1996. the many attempts to hold elections turned out impossible due to the Israeli army re-occupation of Palestinian Authority areas.

Legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Saturday that it was safe this time to say that the “political will to hold elections is there.’

Dr. Ali Jarbawi, the Director of the Palestinian Election Commission, explained that registration drive would take five weeks, with a possible extension of two weeks.

He added that after the registration process ends, the law requires a three-month waiting period before elections can be held.

According to the Election commission plan, local elections in 36 municipalities will be held in December 9, and the remaining municipal elections will be held in three statges, ending December 4, 2005.

Arafat promised Saturday to hold general elections ‘immediately’ after the first round of municipal voting.

Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said that Israel will delay judgment until examining the elections’ results.

‘If as a result of elections, especially the local ones, we are going to see new candidates, not Arafat’s stooges, who will move in the direction of reform, maybe it is a small step in the right direction,’ he said.

In 1996, Hamas boycotted the vote because of its opposition to the interim peace deals. However, the group is ready to compete in municipal elections and already registered observers at polling station, signaling interest in general elections as well.