Hamas Wins Local Elections in West Bank

The Islamic militant group Hamas has won important victories in West Bank municipal elections. prompting concern for both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

Hamas won local elections in the West Bank's biggest cities, throwing down the gauntlet to the ruling Fatah party six weeks ahead of landmark parliamentary elections. The Islamic militant group made its strongest showing in the city of Nablus, winning 70 percent of the vote.

Hamas welfare programs and its suicide bombing campaign against Israel have won it popularity at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, which is widely seen as corrupt. "We have to serve the Palestinian people," Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar said. "If they voted for us, we are going to establish a national program in reconstruction, education, health, economy."

But Hamas also seeks the destruction of Israel, so a strong showing in the January 25 elections could have serious consequences for the peace process.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev told VOA, "Israel's position here is clear. Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization, responsible for countless acts of senseless violence and murder against Israeli civilians, and as long as they are a terrorist organization, armed to the teeth, they are not a legitimate political partner."

Moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is running on a platform of reviving peace talks with Israel, but his Fatah movement is in disarray. The party has split, with a young generation of charismatic leaders breaking away from the so-called "old guard," headed by Mr. Abbas. The old guard leaders returned from exile with the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 1994.

Both Israel and the U.S. see Mr. Abbas as the key to reviving the peace process and ending more than five years of bloodshed. But faced with a growing challenge inside his own party and outside from Hamas, the Palestinian leader is in danger of losing his grip on power.