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Hamas vows anti-corruption drive as Gaza tastes local democracy (AFP-FRANCE PRESSE) GAZA CITY 01/27/05 3:19 AM ET)Source: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=1515&ncid=1515&e=10&u=/afp/20050127/wl_mideast_afp/mideastpalestinianvotemunicipalgaza_050127081937 AFP} Agence France Presse AFP} Agence France Presse Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
GAZA CITY (AFP) - The radical Islamist movement Hamas will make its first major foray into the Palestinian political process today when it takes part in local elections in its Gaza stronghold on an anti- corruption ticket.

New Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas is trying to persuade both Hamas and its smaller rival Islamic Jihad to end their campaign of anti-Israeli attacks by joining the political mainstream.

While they boycotted the January 9 presidential election, both groups will be participating in the next round of municipal elections being held in 10 electoral districts across the Gaza Strip.

Hamas did field a number of candidates in an earlier round of elections in the West Bank late last month but Thursday´s ballot is being viewed as a first real barometer of its electoral strength.

While voting is not taking place in Gaza City or in the other main towns of Rafah and Khan Yunis, the elections are seen as highly significant as they are the first since the territory was seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

Elections are expected to take place in Gaza City itself in March or April.

Abbas has pledged to clean up the widespread corruption within the Palestinian Authority but Hamas is hoping that disillusioned voters will turn to them rather than members of Abbas´s own Fatah ruling movement.

Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said he was confident of securing a large slice of power in the elections which are taking place in areas such as the town of Beit Hanun in northern Gaza.

The town has long been seen as a hotbed of Hamas activity and a frequent launchpad of rocket attacks on Israeli targets.

"We will work to restore confidence in our local institutions which has been worn away by administrative and financial corruption," Masri told AFP.

"Hamas will scrap the patronage and favouritism, and we will provide services without discrimination to the people."

Islamic Jihad, which is only running candidates in four of the 10 electoral districts, also said it planned to home in on the corruption issue.

"We will be doing our upmost to bring about reform," Nafez Azzam, one of its leaders in Gaza, told AFP.

Like Hamas, Jihad has previously boycotted the democratic process but Azzam said that his organisation was keen to "serve our people".

"The core of our Islamic project is to serve the people and to ease their suffering," he said.

Voters on the streets of Beit Hanun were all agreed on the need to implement widespread reforms in Palestinian institutions.

"We will demand that those who are elected clean up the Palestinian house," said Wadha Hamuda, a woman in her 60s who has lost one of her sons during the course of the four-year-old Palestinian uprising.

Large parts of Beit Hanun have been reduced to rubble by Israeli forces during their operations to put a halt to rocket attacks, and Hamuda said she was looking to new local leaders to bring about improvements in living conditions.

"We want them to compensate people whose homes have been damaged or destroyed and to provide jobs for our unemployed people and to struggle for a better life for our people," she said.

Zakia Nasser, 55, said she had told all her children and grandchildren to take part in the vote so that servants of the people rather than cronies would be in control in the future.

"Elections are better than appointments," she said. "The elected people will serve us with their conscience."

More than 90,000 voters are entitled to cast their ballots in 48 voting centres in the electoral districts. A total of 414 candidates, many of them independents, are up for election to 118 council seats. (Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse. 01/27/05)

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