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Hamas victory redraws political map of Middle East
Hamas swept to victory over the long-dominant Fatah party on Thursday in Palestinian parliamentary polls, and Israel immediately ruled out talks with any government involving the Islamic militant group.
Hamas won an overwhelming majority in the 132-seat legislature, taking 76 seats to Fatah's 43 in Wednesday's election, the official vote count showed. It gives Hamas the power to shape and possibly even lead the next cabinet.
The landslide took even Hamas officials by surprise.
"When we took part in the elections we honestly expected to win but we did not expect to win by so much," said Osama Hamdan, the group's representative in Lebanon.
"Sixty seats makes a winner, but winning by this large majority means the Palestinian people have given us a high level of confidence and put a heavy responsibility in our hands."
The biggest party in parliament can veto the president's choice of prime minister. Hamas called for immediate talks among factions to discuss a new government and Palestinian officials said President Mahmoud Abbas would ask Hamas to form one.
But Fatah leaders said they wanted no part in such a coalition. Firing in the air, Fatah gunmen in Gaza City vented their anger at Hamas's victory. They blamed Abbas and party bigwigs for the loss and called on them to resign.
In a clear message to Hamas, Abbas stressed that any government would have to follow his own program to negotiate with Israel for Palestinian statehood. The moderate Fatah leader has said he might resign if he cannot pursue a peace agenda.
U.S. President George W. Bush appealed to Abbas to stay in office and vowed Washington would not deal with an armed Palestinian group advocating Israel's destruction. Hamas rebuffed demands to disarm and change its charter.
"Today we woke up and the sky was a different color. We have entered a new era," Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, of Fatah, said after Hamas claimed victory.
Fatah loyalists clashed with triumphant Hamas supporters who briefly raised their green flags at the entrance to the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah. Fatah activists trampled on one of the banners when it was lowered. Shots were fired nearby.
In Gaza City, Fatah gunmen fired volleys in the air and demanded the resignation of Abbas and the party's old guard. Hamas told its supporters to leave the streets to avoid clashes.
With peace talks stalled since 2000, and Israel and Hamas bitter enemies, Israel's Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could opt for unilateral moves to determine Israel's borders on land that the Palestinians want for a state. It has already pulled its settlers out of the Gaza Strip without negotiations.