Palestinians vote in key Gaza Strip local poll (REUTERS) By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA 01/27/05 01:51 PM ET)
Reuters News Service
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GAZA (Reuters) - Palestinians voted on Thursday in the first
municipal elections in the Gaza Strip, a test of strength between
new President Mahmoud Abbas and the militant Hamas group.
Thousands turned out to cast their ballots for candidates vying for
118 seats in 10 municipal councils throughout the territory, where
Israeli-Palestinian violence has dropped sharply over the past week.
Abbas has been trying to coax a ceasefire from militants
spearheading a 4-year-old revolt and prevent a chaotic power vacuum
in Gaza when Israeli troops and settlers withdraw this year under
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon´s "disengagement plan".
Senior election official Osama Abu Safiyah put election turnout at
more than 80 percent, calling it a demonstration of the Palestinian
commitment to democracy.
Abbas was elected to succeed Yasser Arafat as president by a
landslide this month, but the vote was boycotted by Islamist groups
opposed to peace accords with Israel and shown by opinion polls to
have the support of about one quarter of the public.
Militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, sworn to the Jewish state´s
destruction, have won many hearts not only because they are at the
forefront of the fighting but also for charities that help needy
Palestinians in the absence of government support.
The Islamists also call for reforms of the Palestinian
"The election is our way of getting rid of corruption," said
Mohammed Abu Harbeed, a supporter of pro-Hamas candidates.
Hamas made a strong showing in municipal elections in the West Bank
last month and the group may do even better in Gaza, where 1.4
million Palestinians live in often dire poverty.
Political analysts say that by taking part in the municipal
elections, Hamas is also demonstrating its political sway -- and
claim to a share of power -- ahead of Israel´s planned withdrawal of
Jewish settlers from Gaza.
Hamas is still debating whether to take part in parliamentary
elections in July.
The Palestinian electoral commission expected results to be
announced from the Gaza municipalities on Friday. (© Reuters 2005
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