West Bank votes in polls underlining Palestinian split

Palestinians choose mayors and local councils in communities across the West Bank on Saturday, a rare chance to cast ballots after more than a decade without presidential or legislative elections.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank voted today in municipal elections that underscored deep rifts between president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party and Islamist rival Hamas which runs the Gaza Strip.

They also come more than 10 years after Hamas won the majority of seats in the parliament, which left the global community to deal with the implications of a Palestinian nationalist and Islamist movement finding its feet within the mainstream Palestinian political machine. The first results are expected Sunday.

The West Bank and Gaza have not participated in an election together since 2006, when Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary polls, sparking a conflict that led to near civil war in Gaza the following year.

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The impact of the Hamas boycott was visible in Hebron and Al Bireh in the West Bank, said Harb, "because these two cities are known Hamas strongholds".

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The festival will feature 25 films, made by Palestinian, Arab and global artists in Gaza, the West Bank and the Israeli-Arab city of Haifa, said festival spokesman Saud Aburamadan.

In February, the Ramallah-based government chose to hold the polls in the West Bank, while postponed it in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

"The commission will meet with Hamas in Gaza to see if we can hold supplementary elections there so that we would have elections in all parts of the country", he said. The 300,000 residents of east Jerusalem were not voting Saturday.

In Hebron, the West Bank's largest city and long considered more Hamas-friendly territory, Fatah won just seven of 15 council seats despite the Hamas boycott, the Associated Press reported. More than 200 others either failed to submit an electoral list or submitted only one, meaning automatic appointment.

Months of political and legal wrangling preceded Saturday's elections.

Abbas, 82, is now 12 years into what was to be a four-year term and is an unpopular leader according to opinion polls. Nearly 50% of eligible voters turned out on Saturday.

  • Adam Floyd