Hamas scores successes in Palestinian election
Hamas Islamic militants scored significant successes in Palestinian municipal elections, the first contested by the group sworn to Israel's destruction, initial results showed on Friday.
An unofficial tally gave Hamas control of seven councils against 11 for the dominant Fatah movement, taking results from 24 of the 26 councils contested on Thursday. Official radio said Fatah took 60 percent of seats to 23 percent for Hamas.
The results were certain to send a message of Islamist strength to Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate from Fatah who is expected to succeed Yasser Arafat in a Jan. 9 presidential election and then try to restart talks with Israel.
Hamas has waged a suicide bombing campaign in a 4-year-old uprising and has spurned efforts by Abbas to establish a truce. It is boycotting the presidential election.
The municipal election had been seen as a test of strength between Fatah and Hamas as well as a dry run for the organizers of next month's election. Turnout was estimated at up to 90 percent.
Electoral commission officials said they would announce full council results on Saturday.
"The results assure us that Fatah is still in control and we are witnessing a healthy democratic process," said senior Fatah official Jibril al-Rajoub. "We also congratulate Hamas."
Hamas said it had done even better than the figures appeared to indicate and was waiting for final results.
"(This) indicates that Hamas represents the Palestinian people well and that the Palestinian people are eager for reforms and an end to an era of corruption," said Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri.
Fatah seeks a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, while Hamas wants to wipe out Israel to set up an Islamic state.
But Hamas also calls for reforms in a Palestinian Authority that many see as corrupt and out of touch. Hamas has won favor for charitable work that has helped to replace crumbling official public services.
Since Arafat's death raised new hopes for peace, polls have appeared to show strengthening support for Fatah. One this week gave Fatah a nearly 42 percent trust rating, from 26 percent in June. Hamas had slipped to 20 percent from 22 percent.