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In the first Palestinian parliamentary elections in a decade, the ruling Fatah Party fell short of a majority in the 132-seat parliament, with the militant group Hamas thrusting itself onto the political scene, exit polls showed late Wednesday.


According to one exit poll from Bir Zeit University, Fatah garnered 46.4 percent of the vote and Hamas won 39.8 percent. That translates into 63 seats for Fatah and 58 for Hamas, according to the exit poll.


Hamas is a militant Islamic group that has called for the destruction of Israel and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the U.S. State Department -- raising questions about the future of peace talks.


Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians voted Wednesday in their first parliamentary elections in a decade.


Voting closed around 7 p.m. (noon ET) in Gaza and the West Bank, and it was extended in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem for two hours to accommodate heavy turnout.


Election officials estimated about 77.7 percent of the eligible 1.3 million voters turned out to cast their ballots at more than 1,000 polling stations.


Among those who joined the voters were Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. Militant Palestinian groups had agreed to a cease-fire during the voting, and there were no reports of major violence Wednesday.


"We are embarking on a new era, and we call on the international community to help us return to the negotiating table with the Israelis, to conclude a peace agreement and implement it," Abbas said at the end of the election.



Election adviser Jarrett Blanc was pleased with the way the election was carried out, saying the Central Election Commission "met or exceeded" all the standards that were laid out for the vote.


He cautioned against placing too much emphasis on the exit polls because officials are using a complicated formula that has not been well tested around the globe.


"I would really urge people who are interested in the results to wait for the official results, which will hopefully come out tomorrow," he said.


A total of 11 parties were taking part in the election, but all eyes were on the battle for seats between the ruling Fatah Party and Hamas.


Hamas, which boycotted the last election in 1996, has capitalized on widespread dissatisfaction with what is seen as corruption within the Palestinian Authority and Fatah and a perceived inability by the authority to manage the affairs of the Palestinians.


At polling sites in Gaza, many voters jubilantly waved the green flag of Hamas.


"Fatah hasn't done anything for us, for our children," said one Hamas voter at a polling site in Gaza.


Another said, "Fatah only helps itself. We want to see what Hamas can do for us."


Naila Ayesh and her husband, Jamal, said they are worried about the message Hamas is sending to Palestinians. Naila said Hamas told women if they didn't vote for the militant group that "at the end, God will punish you."


The couple voted for Third Way, a secular, pro-reform party. Jamal said the days when Fatah called the shots are over.


"Monopoly of the political system is finished," he said.


The results of the election were being closely monitored by the United States and European Union, both of which have threatened to cut aid if Hamas becomes part of the government.


"We view Hamas as a terrorist organization. We don't deal with Hamas. And under the current circumstances, I don't see that changing," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. White House spokesman Scott McClellan was more cautious: "We'll see what the election results are. I'm not going to play a what-if scenario here."


There have been talks about a power-sharing coalition, in which Fatah maintains more political posts and Hamas has lower-level ministry positions.



Zahar, the head of Hamas, earlier in the day left open the possibility of forming a coalition with the ruling Fatah Party, as well as the possibility of future negotiations with Israel, under certain conditions.


Zahar said his goals include reconstruction of areas he said have been destroyed from years of Israeli occupation and corruption, and the rebuilding of the Palestinian infrastructure.


He said he would be open to negotiations with Israel, but only if the Israelis enter into talks with good will and respect for the rights of Palestinians.


"We are not going to meet them just for meeting," Zahar told a throng of reporters after casting his own ballot. Previously, he said, many meetings have been held but "ended with nothing."


On the eve of the voting, acting Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert had this message for Palestinians: "Do not choose extremists who have led them from tragedy to tragedy and to misery."


He said the elections are a historic opportunity for Palestinians to have an "independent Palestinian state in their own territory."


Saying Palestinians rejected a 1947 offer to set up their own state, he said, "History has provided them another opportunity to establish an independent state. The actualization of this opportunity involves relinquishing some of their national dreams, just as we have relinquished some of our national dreams


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I read yesterday Hamas was indeed reforming itself into a political party. Some even say Isra?l is supporting this reform, in order to try and get more peace.


Anyway, I'm going to the movies in friday. There's a new film from Spielberg called "Munich" out in the cinema. The subjects are quite similar.


Has anyone seen that movie yet?

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Palestinians await final results of landmark vote


Fatah supporters celebrated on the streets of Ramallah overnight as results filtered in from the landmark Palestinian elections. Both Fatah - the dominant force in Palestinian politics for decades - and main rival Hamas are claiming victory after yesterday's parliamentary elections, the first in a decade.

Exit polls all put Fatah ahead by a slim margin - but it's still too close to call. What is clear is that neither party is likely to win a majority of seats in the new Palestinian parliament.

Both sides have said they would consider a coalition if there is no clear winner.


"This is the beginning of a new era, and I hope one in which we will start peace negotiations,", Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said.


That prospect now seems remote, with Hamas now on course to share power with Fatah. Israel has said it will not talk to Hamas unless it recognises the Jewish state, something the group has ruled out. The European Union and the United States also regard it as a terrorist organisation.

The so-called Quartet of the EU, Russia, the US and the UN meets on Monday in London to evaluate the results which are expected later today.

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It might also be a way to get them to follow a more peaceful course. Otherwise they wouldn't be even more isolated on international level.


Besides: if nations deal with countries such as China, Iran or Saudi Arabia, I don't see a reason why they should refuse to talk with this new Palestinian government.

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Angry Palestinian police take over parliament


Palestinian police have taken over the parliament building in Gaza City where they are staging a protest against Hamas' election victory. Around 30 officers entered the compound. Some took up positions on the roof, others climbed on top of a nearby building.

There were similar protests last Saturday, when policemen stormed the parliament, shattering windows and brandishing Fatah flags.

Many fear control of the Palestinian security force will be transferred to Hamas. The Islamic militant group won a landslide victory in last week's parliamentary election, ousting the long-ruling Fatah faction.


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It's more like this:


The majority of the policemen are members of the Fatah or at least sympathize with the Fatah. The Hamas is a political competitor for them (at best) or an enemy (at worst).


Hamas and Fatah don't trust each other. Since the withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Gaza and the construction of the Wall in the Westbank, the "common enemy" is gone and the constant fighting has dramatically been reduced. Fatah and Hamas should be working for the palestinian people, but they're unwilling to cooperate.


Now: If Hamas continues as it has done in the past, I can't see how the EU and the USA can finance the palestinian government and administration. Hamas has the status of a terrorist organization within the EU. We can't imprison them here and finance them there. We also can't say that Hamas is NOT a terrorist organization. It is.


I don't see a future in european-palestinian relations if Hamas doesn't stop its terrorist activities.


This isn't just part of the "crusade against terrorism". This course of action - no money for and no talks with terrorist organization - has been pursued in the past - with the IRA in Ireland, the ETA in Spain, the RAF in Germany. It has worked two times (IRA/RAF) and it may work a third time.


We should accept the vote of the palestinian people - it is their choice. But that doesn't mean that we have to support the goals of the new government. Many european nations refused to follow the course of the Bush administration in the United States after it was elected - but they accepted the vote of the american people and dealt with the new government. The same thing is possible now - and should be done.

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Hamas rejects Mideast Quartet statements

Ignorant of the Palestinian reality - that is how an incoming Hamas member of the Palestinian parliament has described the statements of the Middle East Quartet.

Mushir al-Masri said giving aid should be based on the just nature of the Palestinian cause. But he also stressed that Hamas wanted to build a constructive relationship with the international community.

That, however, seems an unlikely prospect as long as the group refuses torecognise Israel. Hamas has offered a long-term truce if Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders, but the Jewish state has made it clear it will not make any concessions until Hamas disarms and stops calling for Israel's destruction.


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We should accept the vote of the palestinian people - it is their choice. But that doesn't mean that we have to support the goals of the new government. Many european nations refused to follow the course of the Bush administration in the United States after it was elected - but they accepted the vote of the american people and dealt with the new government. The same thing is possible now - and should be done.

True. And it's not like any nation is going to invade Palestina (again) because of these results. But you have to consider: those people (feel like they) in a time of war, and that always has a great effect on electionresults.

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I hope that they'll soon find out, that they are NOT at war and have to find new ways for their land and their people. And it might be helpful for the people to experience democracy, to see that their vote can make a difference.


We'll just have to wait and see.

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