Palestinians march in Gaza to celebrate Hamas victory (INDEPENDENT UK) By Eric Silver in Jerusalem, ISRAEL 01/29/05)
INDEPENDENT UK Articles-Index-Top
Hundreds of Palestinians marched through Gaza City yesterday to
celebrate the sweeping victory of Hamas candidates in the first local
elections held in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli and Palestinian officials interpreted it less as a vote for
continuing the violence than as an opportunity for the Islamic
movement to reinvent itself as a political party sharing power under
Mahmoud Abbas´s reforming presidency.
Hamas, which has dispatched hundreds of suicide bombers against
Israeli civilians during the four-year intifada and seeks a Muslim
state in the whole of historic Palestine, claimed 77 seats out of 118
in the 10 town and district councils where polling took place on
Thursday. Fewer than 40 seats went to the ruling Fatah party. Hamas
will control seven councils.
Mahmoud Zahar, its Gaza political leader, hailed the vote as "a huge
achievement for the Palestinian people". But he declined to crow. The
results, he said, were good for Mr Abbas, who had decided to hold the
elections. The 88 per cent turnout was not a vote against anyone.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said the successes would increase
the pressure for Hamas candidates to contest parliamentary elections
scheduled for July. Hamas boycotted presidential elections earlier
this month, but unlike the smaller, more radical Islamic Jihad it has
always aspired to a political role. It built much of its popular
appeal on a network of grassroots social and educational services.
Ra´anan Gissin, a spokes-man for the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel
Sharon, was unusually phlegmatic. "The elections could have a
positive effect," he said.
"This could be a strong incentive for ending terrorism. Now Hamas
have to keep their promises and improve the living conditions of the
people. You can´t take part in decision- making and at the same time
continue terrorist activity."
Hanan Ashrawi, an independent Palestinian legislator, argued that the
Gaza electors had voted out of family or tribal loyalty rather than
for an extreme Islamist agenda. "Hamas put forward credible people
with good standing in their communities," she said. "They voted for
efficiency and integrity."
She saw no threat to Mr Abbas´s chances of winning a parliamentary
majority for ending corruption and negotiating a two-state
solution. "The more the Palestinian Authority succeeds in carrying
out reforms, delivering services and establishing the rule of law,"
she said, "the more it will help moderate candidates in the future".
Both Palestinians and Israelis took further steps yesterday towards
what Mr Sharon labelled on Thursday as a potentially "historic
breakthrough" that could lead to peace. The Palestinians deployed
more than 2,000 armed policemen in southern Gaza with orders to stop
gunmen launching rockets and mortars at Jewish settlements. A similar
force, already posted to northern Gaza, has drastically reduced
attacks on the Israeli border town of Sderot.
Israel reciprocated yesterday by cutting military operations in Gaza
to a minimum to enable the Palestinian security services to take
responsibility for ending the violence. As another gesture,
Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya´alon, the chief of staff, ordered
soldiers to stop targeting West Bank gunmen, unless they posed an
immediate threat. (© 2005 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd 01/29/05)
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