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Gaza: Hamas sweeps local elections (JERUSALEM POST) By KHALED ABU TOAMEH 01/29/05 18:46)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106848122983 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Hamas candidates swept last Thursday´s election for 10 municipalities in the Gaza Strip, winning as many as 77 of the 118 seats.

It was the second victory of its kind for Hamas in recent weeks. Last month, Hamas candidates won an overwhelming majority of seats in the first phase of municipal elections that was held in the West Bank.

More rounds are planned in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in April and July.

The elections were held in ten towns: Bani Suhailah, Bet Hanoun, al- Zahra, al-Maghazi, al-Zawaidah, Khuza´ah, al-Masdar, Shawkah, Der al- Balah and al-Shawkah.

Thursday´s landslide victory is seen as a severe blow to the ruling Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), whose representatives won only 26 seats. Independents took 14 seats, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine gained one seat.

It also reflects widespread support for Hamas and growing disillusionment with corruption in the PA in the poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, where the Islamic movement runs a vast network of social and economic services, in addition to schools, kindergartens and clinics.

PA Minister for Local Government, Jamal Shobaki, said the overall turnout was 85 percent and noted that 20 of the winners were women. He said the vote was conducted in a "fair and democratic" atmosphere.

"The Hamas victory proves that Islam is the only solution," declared a slogan from loudspeakers as thousands of Hamas supporters celebrated in the streets after the results were announced.

"This victory means that the Palestinian people refuse corruption and hope for change to protect its interests," said Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri. "This significant result also means that democracy has won."

The poll results could give Hamas more leverage in its negotiations with Abbas over power sharing. The results are likely to boost Hamas´s standing as Abbas seeks to reach a cease-fire with Israel.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said the results showed that at least 65% of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip support his movement.

"This means that the people believe in the armed resistance as the only option," he said, pointing out that Hamas won 11 of the 13 seats in Bet Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, a town that had been used by Hamas members to fire Kasam rockets at Israel.

Zahar said Hamas was still considering Abbas´s offer to join the PA and was holding consultations with Hamas leaders in Syria and Lebanon about the issue. He said the Hamas-run municipalities will seek to purchase electricity and gas from neighboring Arab countries instead of Israel.

Former PA Minister of Information Nabil Amr called on Hamas to transform itself into a political party in the aftermath of its huge success in the local elections and to seriously consider becoming part of the PA political establishment. (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/29/05)

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