Hamas Dominates Local Vote in Gaza - Radicals Deal Blow to Abbas´s Party (WASHINGTON POST) By John Ward Anderson GAZA CITY 01/29/05 Page A22)
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GAZA CITY, Jan. 28 -- The radical Palestinian group Hamas, which has
conducted numerous suicide bombings against Israelis and which the
United States considers a terrorist organization, won an overwhelming
victory in Thursday´s local elections in the Gaza Strip, capturing
almost two-thirds of all the seats being contested and seizing power
in seven of the 10 towns where elections were held, according to
independent analyses of results released on Friday.
Hamas, known officially as the Islamic Resistance Movement, won 76 of
the 118 total seats, dealing a staggering blow to the Fatah movement,
which was founded by Yasser Arafat and has been the most powerful
Palestinian party for more than 30 years. Fatah, which is also the
party of the Palestinian Authority´s new president, Mahmoud Abbas,
won 38 seats and took control of three councils. Three independent
candidates and one from the radical Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine also won seats.
Voter turnout was more than 80 percent.
Even though the Gaza Strip is Hamas´s home base, the results were
striking, especially given that it was the first election for public
office that Hamas had ever contested in Gaza and the voting took
place in towns chosen by Fatah officials because they were assumed to
be places where the party would do well. Fatah leaders were similarly
stunned last month when Hamas won about 35 percent of the seats in 26
local elections in the West Bank.
"The magnitude was humongous. Many observers did not expect such a
sweeping victory," said Hisham Ahmed, a political scientist at Bir
Zeit University near Ramallah and an expert on Hamas. He said the
results stemmed largely from widespread Palestinian disenchantment
with Fatah and its corruption, the death of Arafat in November, and
Israeli policies toward Palestinians that "are destroying secularism
in Palestinian society."
Dore Gold, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
who has written extensively on Islamic terrorism, said Hamas, aided
by Saudi Arabia and Iran, has spent much of the last decade "creating
a vast civilian infrastructure with schools, clinics, day care
centers and a vast network of propaganda, and what you are seeing now
is the fruits of that long effort."
Ahmed and Gold both said that the victory strengthened Hamas´s hand
in negotiations with Abbas over power-sharing among the various
Palestinian factions and a proposed cease-fire with Israel. The
elections could also give Hamas tremendous momentum if it decides to
field candidates in the parliamentary elections scheduled for July,
Meanwhile, the warming trend between Israel and the Palestinians
continued Friday, as hundreds of Palestinian security forces fanned
out across the Gaza Strip to stop guerrillas from firing rocket and
mortar rounds at Jewish settlements and Israeli towns. Israel´s
military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, ordered Israeli
troops to stop offensive actions in any areas in Gaza where
Palestinian forces were deployed.
A statement by the Israeli military said that "in light of the
ongoing cooperation," it would also scale back operations in the West
Bank and would consider reopening three Gaza border crossings next
According to the statement, Yaalon also ordered that "targeting of
terrorists in the West Bank will take place only if there is an
immediate threat by active terrorist cells, and only with . . .
Although candidates said that the elections had nothing to do with
national politics and were strictly about the delivery of local
services, much of Hamas´s campaign propaganda underscored its role in
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, which has been pummeled by
the Israeli military in response to rocket fire, a large billboard
showed a hooded Hamas militant on a knee, aiming a rocket-propelled
grenade launcher on his shoulder. "The Qassam Brigades," the sign
said, using the name of Hamas´s armed wing. "You see us in every
field -- a lion that prevents the incursion."
In choosing the towns to be included in Thursday´s round of
elections, Fatah officials had picked Beit Hanoun on the assumption
that its residents would punish Hamas for inciting Israeli
counterattacks. Instead, voters there gave 11 of 13 seats to Hamas,
one to the Popular Front and one to an independent.
In Deir el-Balah, where a 70-foot-long banner pictured Sheik Ahmed
Yassin and Abdel Aziz Rantisi, two Hamas leaders assassinated last
spring by Israeli forces, Hamas won 13 of 15 council seats. "People
in our town want services, and they see who has been working over the
years," said Ahmed Kurd, 56, a local sheik and one of the Hamas
members on the new Deir el-Balah council. "Our candidates have been
involved in work for the community in schools, kindergartens and
charity institutions, and now the public has come to pay its tribute.
Researcher Samuel Sockol in Jerusalem contributed to this report. (©
2005 The Washington Post Company 01/29/05)
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