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Palestinian West Bank local elections a test for Fatah party

15 May 2017

Turnout in Nablus was just 21 percent.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party is ahead in most of the West Bank's main cities after municipal elections that highlighted persistent divisions with its rival Hamas, latest results show.

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.

Hamas boycotted the previous municipal elections, held in 2012.

In Hebron, the West Bank's largest city and a Hamas stronghold, Fatah won just seven of 15 seats.

Ramallah, the Palestinian political capital, saw turnout of less than 40%.

Only 145 West Bank localities were up for vote, after the more than 200 others either failed to submit an electoral list or submitted only one, meaning automatic appointment, according to the Palestinian Central Election Commission.

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Several months ago, Hamas announced that it had elected senior military official Yehya Senwar as its leader in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas did not run any candidates under its party label in the vote.

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

The Palestinian high court ruled in October that the municipal elections should be held only in the West Bank because the judiciary in Gaza did not have the necessary "guarantees" in place - a decision denounced by Hamas as "political". Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was Fatah who excluded Gaza and Hamas because they were not interested in partnership. East Jerusalem's 300,000 residents didn't take part in the elections.

Hamas has rejected the calls for elections saying they will only continue to pull political sensitivities in Palestinian socio-political hemisphere if elections are held before political reconciliation between the two parties.

"I came to exercise my democratic rights", said Bishara Dabbah, a 55-year-old Ramallah resident.

A man looks for his name on a voter's list at a polling station in the West Bank city of Nablus, Saturday, May 13, 2017.

Palestinian West Bank local elections a test for Fatah party