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Hamas gains Palestinian political clout

The militant group won 28 municipal elections in the territories Thursday.

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During the past 4-1/2 years, the militant group Hamas has used suicide bombings and rocket launchings to take the lead among Palestinian factions in attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets.

But it wasn't primarily its persistent campaign against the Israeli occupation that won over voters in municipal elections Thursday, which has helped give Hamas enough support to become a potent force in Palestinian electoral politics.

Rather, Hamas is capitalizing on the vulnerabilities in Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the dominant force in Palestinian politics for four decades.

In the view of Hamas and Fatah activists as well as many voters, Fatah lost critical support because of the lack of improvement in daily living conditions for Palestinians, internal divisions, corruption, and the mistakes made in playing the politics of extended families.

All of these are factors that could come back to haunt Fatah in the legislative elections scheduled for July.

Fatah did not collapse in the poll, the third round of local elections that took place in 84 municipalities.

Fatah won in more than 50 municipalities, compared with 28 for Hamas. The remainder went to smaller groups, according to preliminary results. But Hamas took the bigger cities: Qalqilya in the northern West Bank, and Beit Lahiya, Bureij, and apparently Rafah in the Gaza Strip, though the latter outcome was being disputed by Fatah.

"We can definitely see the municipal elections as an accomplishment for Hamas," says Bir Zeit University political scientist Hisham Ahmed. "It opens the door for their participation in the political process in a full-fledged manner at the domestic political level.... The impact of this is that there will be very fierce competition in the legislative elections."

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