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Hamas claims victory
The Islamic militant group Hamas captured a large majority of seats in Palestinian legislative elections, officials in Hamas and the ruling Fatah Party said today - a devastating upset that is sure to throw Middle East peacemaking into turmoil.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his Cabinet ministers submitted their resignations to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas today. "This is the choice of the people. It should be respected," Qureia said. "If it's true (the results), then the president should ask Hamas to form a new government. For me, personally, I sent my resignation."
Under the law, Abbas must ask the largest party in the new parliament - presumably Hamas - to form the next government. Abbas was elected separately a year ago and remains president.
Hamas said before the election it does not want to govern alone, and would prefer to bring Fatah into a coalition. Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said today that the group will declare its intentions after official results are announced.
Israel and the United States have said they would not deal with a Hamas-led Palestinian government. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has said he would step down if he could no longer pursue his peace agenda with Israel.
Palestinian election officials confirmed that Hamas had won a large majority of the seats up for grabs in electoral districts in the West Bank and Gaza. Half the seats in Wednesday's parliament vote were chosen on a national list and the other half by districts.
The Central Election Commission said the vote count had not been completed and that it would make an official announcement at 7pm (1700 gmt) today.
Initial exit polls on Wednesday night had forecast a slight edge for Fatah, with Hamas coming in a strong second. The polls predicted that neither Hamas nor Fatah would have enough seats to form a government alone, and would have to rely on smaller parties to form a coalition.
However, on Thursday morning, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said his group had won about 70 seats in the 132-member parliament. Later in the day, another Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the number had risen to at least 75.