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PALESTINE - Jan 27 - Hamas Sweeps Gaza Civic Elections.

Hamas sweeps municipal elections in Gaza, winning as many as 77 seats out of 118 in 10 councils. The movement's spectacular win in the poverty-stricken territory comes as Israel announced a halt to operations in the Gaza Strip. The Hamas victory was a setback for the Fatah party of Pres Mahmoud Abbas. It reflected widespread support in Gaza for Hamas, which provides welfare, schools and kindergartens to the impoverished residents of the territory. Residents appeared to have voted on local issues and to express their anger over corruption in the Fatah-dominated PA. Central Election Commission sources said Fatah had got 26 municipal seats while independent members bagged 14 seats and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine one. PA Local Affairs Minister Jamal Al-Shobaki said the overall turnout was 85% and 20 of the winners were women. Thousands of Hamas supporters took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate the victory. Chanting "Hamas is the real way for reform and rebuilding", the supporters waved green Hamas flags and distributed candy. In Bani Suhalia in southern Gaza, voters said they supported Hamas because it stood for good government - a sharp contrast to the corruption and cronyism they attributed to Fatah rule. "We need to have good education and a good heath system", said Mona Ibrahim, her face almost totally covered by a black veil. "Fatah has been all about nepotism and bribes. Nepotism and bribes flourished during the Fatah era". In northern Gaza, Radawan Shabat, a 65-year-old farmer, said he had voted for Hamas because "they have clean hands and are not corrupt". The poll results could give Hamas more leverage in its negotiations with Abbas over power sharing. The results could herald a similar strong showing for Hamas in legislative elections set for July. Israel's army chief on Jan 27 ordered troops to halt operations in the Gaza Strip and to scale them back in the West Bank, citing renewed security co-operation with the Palestinians. The army chief Lt Gen Moshe Yaalon, also said crossings into the Gaza Strip will reopen next week. The orders came hours after Palestinian police completed their deployment in Gaza, taking up positions in the central and southern areas to prevent attacks on Israeli targets. Police deployed in northern Gaza last week. In the West Bank, Israeli forces are expected to start pulling back from towns in coming days and to begin removing some roadblocks, as part of a handover of security control to the Palestinians. The easing of tensions came after Abbas won a promise from armed groups that they would halt attacks if Israel stops military operations in the West Bank and Gaza. Yaalon ordered a halt to military activity in areas of Gaza where Palestinian police are deployed. Israeli troops still maintain positions in the strip, along main roads and near Jewish settlements. The army chief said arrest raids in the West Bank must be minimized and will require his personal approval. Soldiers would only target Palestinian militants "if there is an immediate threat by active terror cells, and only with explicit authorization" of the army chief. Next week, the three major Gaza crossings - Karni, Erez and Rafah - will open to Palestinian travelers and cargo.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Jan 29, 2005
Words:534
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