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Hamas Wins Major Victory in Gaza Local Elections (REUTERS) By Nidal al-Mughrabi GAZA 01/28/05 05:27 AM ET)Source: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=7464768 Reuters News Service Reuters News Service Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
GAZA (Reuters) - Islamic militant group Hamas swept nearly two-thirds of seats in first-ever Gaza Strip council elections, unofficial results showed on Friday, dealing a blow to President Mahmoud Abbas.

Results collated by Reuters for the 118 seats on 10 councils showed that candidates from the Hamas list had won just over 65 percent against nearly 30 percent for Abbas´s Fatah movement and its allies. Some seats went to independents.

Abbas has been trying to win 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 local poll was seen as a key test of support for the Islamists, who boycotted the Jan. 9 presidential election that Abbas won by a landslide on a platform of ending violence in order to allow new statehood talks with Israel.

Hamas, sworn to the Jewish state´s destruction, has won many hearts not only for being at the forefront of the fighting but also for charities that help needy Palestinians in the absence of government support.

"It was a competition for the purpose of serving the Palestinian people and creating a better life," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, reacting to the poll results. "We see this as a victory for the Palestinian people."

Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, did not comment immediately on the unofficial results. The electoral commission was due to make an official announcement later on Friday.

Voter turnout topped 80 percent for the local poll -- considerably higher than at the presidential election for a successor to Yasser Arafat.

Hamas made a strong showing in municipal elections in the West Bank last month and the group had been expected to 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 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 July parliamentary elections that could also bring the group closer to the political mainstream, but officials were upbeat after the Gaza poll.

"The results showed that our people are insisting Hamas take part in the upcoming ballot," Abu Zuhri said. (© Reuters 2005 01/28/05)

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