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Hamas claims victory
by UK Independent (reposted)
Thursday Jan 26th, 2006 7:46 AM
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.

by BBC (reposted)
Thursday Jan 26th, 2006 7:47 AM
There are strong indications that the Islamic militant group Hamas has won a stunning victory in Wednesday's Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Final results are to be announced at around 1900 local time (1700 GMT).

But Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei announced his resignation, as the ruling Fatah party admitted defeat.

Meanwhile Hamas and Fatah supporters clashed in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Shots were fired in the air and some injuries were reported.

A Hamas victory will pose a great dilemma for the international community as it tries to restart peace talks with Israel, correspondents say.

Arab concern

Israel has said it will not deal with a Palestinian Authority which includes Hamas.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US policy on Hamas was unchanged, and the movement would have to renounce violence.

"You cannot have one foot in politics and the other in terror," she said.

European officials echoed the call.

"The onus is now on Hamas to choose between democracy or violence. You cannot have both," UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC.

Ms Rice will meet UN, European and Russian leaders on Monday to evaluate the result and decide how to proceed with peace efforts.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says the Hamas win will also cause Arab governments concern.

The group looks set to become the first ever Islamist movement in the Arab world to be voted into government.

This will almost certainly give a boost to the Islamist oppositions in Egypt and Jordan.

Politics transformed

Hamas claimed it had won at least 70 seats in the 132-member parliament, while EU election observer Richard Howitt told the BBC he had been informed that Hamas could have won up to 80 seats.

Observers praised the election process, with EU monitoring team leader Veronique De Keyser saying the poll was "free and fair under severe restrictions", referring to Israeli measures to limit voting in East Jerusalem.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Jerusalem says there is no doubt that the Hamas showing has transformed the Palestinian political arena.

For decades, Fatah - the party founded by the late Yasser Arafat - has totally dominated electoral politics, but that time is over, he says.

But correspondents say Hamas seems unprepared for its own victory, and has not prepared itself to step neatly into government and assume immediate responsibility.

Ismail Haniya, who headed the Hamas election list, said they would consult Fatah and other groups with a view to forming what he described as a political partnership.

The likelihood of a resounding victory for Hamas - which is committed to the destruction of Israel - sent shockwaves though the Jewish state.

Speaking on election night, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel could not deal with a Palestinian Authority which included Hamas.

Hamas official Mushir al-Masri warned that Hamas would not hold peace talks with Israel.

"Negotiations with Israel is not on our agenda," he said.

"Recognising Israel is not on the agenda either now."

But another official, Mahmoud Zahar, told AP news agency that Hamas would maintain February's ceasefire if Israel did the same.

"If they are going to continue commitment to what is called quietness, then we will continue," he said.

"But if not, then I think we will have no option, but to protect our people and our land."

The outcome of the Palestinian election is the biggest challenge facing Mr Olmert since he took over from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who remains in a coma following a massive stroke on 4 January.
by UK Independent (reposted)
Thursday Jan 26th, 2006 5:12 PM
The militant Islamic faction Hamas sent shock waves through Israel, Western capitals and its own ranks yesterday by sweeping to an overall parliamentary majority, making it the pivotal force in Palestinian politics.

Securing 76 of the 132 seats in the parliament whose existence it opposed for almost a decade, Hamas's unexpectedly overwhelming victory challenged almost every assumption about the Middle East and plunged the Israel-Palestinian conflict into another period of unpredictability.

The landslide abruptly ended the dominance of the Palestinian Authority (PA) by Fatah, the nationalist movement founded more than 35 years ago by Yasser Arafat, which took only 43 seats after the first Palestinian Legislative Council elections for a decade. Hamas, which has been on ceasefire for more than a year but has been responsible for more than 400 deaths of Israeli civilians in some 58 suicide bombings during the past five years, immediately said it would try to form a unity coalition with the defeated Fatah, which was dogged during the election by splits and a reputation for corruption and inefficiency.

As some Western governments began a cautious assessment of whether Hamas's triumph was a menacing new threat to the region's stability or the beginning of a possible conversion from armed militancy to mainstream politics, the acting Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, said that Israel would not negotiate with any Palestinian government that included Hamas members.

"The state of Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian administration if even part of it is an armed terrorist organisation calling for the destruction of the state of Israel," he said, in a statement released last night after a three-hour emergency cabinet meeting with senior ministers.

Ismail Haniyeh, a leading Hamas candidate, told the BBC: "Don't be afraid. Hamas is an aware and mature movement ... which is politically open in the Palestinian arena, and to its Arab and Islamic hinterland, and similarly open to the international arena."

Hamas asked for immediate coalition talks to be convened by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. The faction's leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, said the call was being made "because we are strong. If they [Fatah] are not willing we will run it alone and we will achieve success."