Palestinian resistance group HAMAS won a sweeping victory in municipal elections in the West Bank, Reuters reported.
Preliminary results released Friday by the Palestinian electoral commission showed that HAMAS won control of the council in the West Bank city of Jenin and al-Bireh, a large suburb of Ramallah, following Thursday’s vote.
The commission had earlier said that HAMAS won 73% of the votes in Nablus, the West Bank’s largest city, while PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS' ruling Fatah party took only 13%.
Nablus has traditionally been seen as a Fatah stronghold, but the movement appears to have been damaged by current divisions.
On Wednesday, jailed uprising leader Marwan Barghouti split from Fatah to form a rival party ahead of the January 25 parliamentary elections.
HAMAS, which is contesting the election for the first time, had made a strong showing in three earlier rounds of local voting.
About 148,000 Palestinians were eligible to vote for 414 local council seats in the West Bank. Thursday’s final round of local election was seen as a rehearsal for next month’s poll
Final results are expected tomorrow.
HAMAS' spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said its victory in the West Bank indicated "that our people are united behind the choice of reform and change and united behind resistance."
On the other hand, Fatah official Ziad Abu Ein, blamed the municipal election defeat on the leadership’s failure to select popular candidates. "We are extremely worried," he said, according to Reuters.
Fatah’s divisions has grown since the ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL from the Gaza Strip in September.
"Fatah has two choices; either to regroup or to take steps to sabotage the PLC elections. Otherwise they will risk Hamas controlling the PLC," said Palestinian commentator Ali Jarbawi.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials warned that the peace process will end if HAMAS becomes a dominant political party.
"If HAMAS were ever to dominate Palestinian politics, that would mean the end of the peace process," Reuters quoted Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev as saying.
In another development, Israel launched another round of air strikes on the Gaza Strip late Thursday, wounding two Palestinians, medics said, according to BBC.
Reports say Palestinian fighters responded to the Israeli attacks by firing Qassam rockets into Israel. No casualties were reported.
Israel has stepped up its military operations against Palestinian resistance fighters since the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a bomb attack in the coastal city of Netanya earlier this month.
As part of its response to the Netanya attack, Israel also delayed the implementation of an agreement that will allow Palestinian bus convoys between Gaza and the West Bank.
Under pressure from the United States and the European Union, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has agreed to resume talks on the bus service, but said that he will not let it begin until his concerns about security have been addressed.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat slammed the Israeli decision on Thursday, describing it as a "flagrant violation" of the agreement.
The bus agreement was borkered last month by the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The deal would have greatly improved Palestinian freedom of movement as the first link-up between Gaza and the West Bank.