Fatah claims victory in West Bank
Local elections in the territory boycotted by Hamas movement that rules Gaza
Agence France-Presse in Ramallah
Supporters of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party were yesterday claiming victory ahead of the results of the West Bank local elections, in the first such vote since 2006.
Late on Saturday, after 12 hours of voting that was boycotted by the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza, Fatah supporters took to the streets of the southern city of Hebron celebrating their victory.
Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf said the party had won a victory throughout the West Bank, in what he described as "a major popular referendum on the movement's political programme and its national performance", a statement said.
"The elections went very smoothly," Elections Commission chairman Hanna Nasser said in Ramallah.
The last time the Palestinians voted was in the general elections of January 2006, which Hamas won by a landslide. Hamas also chalked up major wins during the last local elections in 2005, the first time it had participated in the democratic process.
This time, however, Hamas refused to take part after the collapse of unity talks with the rival Fatah party.
That left Fatah pitted against independents and leftist groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Saturday's vote was only held in 93 of the West Bank's 354 municipalities, as candidates in another 179 localities were appointed unopposed. Elections in the remaining 82 areas will be held on November 24.
Abbas, after voting near Ramallah, expressed disappointment that the election was not taking place in Gaza.
"We hope our brothers in Hamas will let the democratic process take place in Gaza, not only for local elections but also for presidential and parliamentary elections," he said.
But Hamas said holding the vote solely in the West Bank served only to cement the yawning divide between the two main political movements in the Palestinian territories.