Fatah dominates West Bank vote

Leading faction wins 51 of 104 councils, with Hamas to control 13


JERUSALEM -- In final results of West Bank elections in 104 municipalities, the dominant Fatah faction won control of 51 councils, while the radical Islamic group Hamas won 13, officials said yesterday.

Other factions, mostly local groupings of large families or clans, won control of the other 40 councils, according to Jamal al-Shobaki, head of the Palestinian election commission, who released the final figures to reporters in Ramallah.

Fatah won 54 percent of the vote, electing 547 council members, and Hamas won 26 percent, electing 265 members. Turnout was 84 percent in this third round of local elections, with a final and more important round, involving the major cities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, expected in December.

Hamas is traditionally weaker in the West Bank than in the more conservative and isolated Gaza Strip, and some of its main candidates, including the West Bank leader Sheik Hassan Youssef, were arrested by the Israeli army last Sunday night, preventing them from campaigning.

Hamas was also damaged by the perception that it had given Israel the pretext for rocket attacks, arrests and killings of suspected militants by launching dozens of rockets at Israel last week. Hamas carried out the attacks after falsely claiming that Israel was responsible for the explosion of its weaponry during a march in Gaza on Sept. 23, a blast that killed 16 people and wounded more than 100.

Fatah should be able to form alliances in municipalities won by other factions, Shobaki said. "We expect Hamas to gain no more than one more municipality," he said.

In Gaza City, a Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said Shobaki, a Fatah official, had intentionally avoided announcing that Fatah had run unopposed in 22 councils. "The announcement by the local election committee was biased," he said.

In the past week, Israel has arrested 441 people in the West Bank and killed five as it tried to carry out arrests. Israel has used the Hamas actions in Gaza as a reason for its continuing sweep through the West Bank, which the Israeli commander there, Brig. Gen. Yair Golan, likened to "keeping the grass cropped all the time" in an interview with the daily newspaper Maariv.

But with relative quiet in Gaza and some pressure from Washington not to damage the administration of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, Israeli officials say they are likely to "re-evaluate" the campaign, according to Israel Radio.

On Friday, Abbas said the Israeli raids were undermining his efforts to keep the peace. "I don't know what lies behind this policy of the Israeli government," he said. "This is a pursuit without any reason."

Yesterday, the Israeli army opened an investigation into the killing Friday afternoon of a Palestinian boy, Udai Tantawi, 13, in the Askar refugee camp during a patrol that came under fire, according to an Israeli Army spokeswoman, Capt. Yael Hartmann.

The investigation is to see whether the troops broke the rules of engagement by using live fire against orders when their lives were not endangered. Palestinian witnesses said Friday that only rocks and bottles were thrown at the patrol. The patrol commander said Palestinians fired on them with automatic weapons, Hartmann said.

But an initial investigation indicates that the Palestinian witnesses were correct. The patrol was not fired on, Hartmann said.

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