Strong Showing for Hamas in Gaza Local Poll (REUTERS) By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA Additional reporting by Wafa Amr in Ramallah 01/27/05 07:19 PM ET)
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GAZA (Reuters) - Hamas made a strong showing in first-ever municipal
elections held on Thursday in the Gaza Strip and seen as a test of
strength between the Islamic militant group and President Mahmoud
Abbas, an exit poll showed.
The poll by the independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey
Research showed Hamas was likely to take three of the four biggest
districts in Gaza, including one where Abbas´s dominant Fatah
movement had been expected to triumph.
Abbas has been trying to coax a cease-fire 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."
The Hamas list declared victory and dedicated its triumph to slain
leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. But reacting to the exit poll, a senior
Fatah leader in Gaza, Samir al-Mashhrawi, told Reuters it was too
soon to call the contest.
Voter turnout topped 80 percent for the poll in which candidates vied
for 118 seats in the 10 municipal councils.
CELEBRATIONS IN RAFAH
In southern Gaza´s Rafah, a militant stronghold, Hamas members took
to the streets, waving their theme-colored green flags and chanting
slogans in celebration, witnesses said.
The pro-Hamas party list said initial results tallied by its own
observers indicated that the group had won seven of the 10
municipalities. A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, praised the high
But Fatah sources disputed the exit poll predictions and said they
thought they had won most of the races.
A State Department official had no immediate comment on the poll, but
said: "We´ll follow this situation and see if it has any effect on
President Abbas´ moves to control the security situation and to
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 administration.
"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. (Additional reporting by Wafa
Amr in Ramallah) (© Reuters 2005 01/27/05)
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