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Fatah declares victory in West Bank local elections

President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement has claimed victory in local elections in the West Bank. Unofficial results show that Fatah candidates won in six of the 11 main electorates.

Palestinians examine a voter registration list before casting their ballot for municipal elections at a polling station in the West Bank city of Bethlehem October 20, 2012. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside (WEST BANK - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

Westjordanland Wahlen

In the southern city of Hebron, supporters of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, were out on the streets celebrating the election win as early as late Saturday.

The movement claimed in a statement to have won in most of the municipalities, towns and villages on the West Bank.

"We consider the victory as a major popular referendum on the movement's political programme and its national performance," spokesman Ahmad Assaf said in the statement.

Election officials said Sunday that Fatah won local council majorities in the towns of Hebron, Qalqiliya, Tulkarem, Jericho, Salfit and El Bireh. However, in Nablus, Ramallah, Jenin and Tubas voters preferred independent lists dominated by Fatah breakaways. In Bethlehem, leftist and independent candidates won.

Officials spoke anonymously as results are to be released later on Sunday.

The election was the first for Palestinians in six years.

Fatah's victory was expected as it ran almost uncontested after Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, boycotted the vote after the collapse of unity talks with Fatah president Mahmoud Abbas.

A delayed election

Hamas banned voting in the Gaza Strip and said it would not recognize the results of Saturday's election in the West Bank.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who took office when Hamas won a surprise majority in a parliamentary vote in 2006, referred to the vote as "unilateral elections removed from a national consensus."

Hamas and Fatah have failed to implement an Egyptian-brokered national unity agreement to end their rift, which has led to the suspension of parliamentary and presidential elections.

This weekend's vote had been repeatedly delayed, but Fatah finally found the time ripe to open the polls. Fatah edged out Hamas in university ballots earlier this year, and opinion polls have reflected a drop in support for the Islamist group.

Shortly after the end of voting, Hanna Nasser, chairman of the Central Elections Commission said 277,000 out of the 505,600 eligible voters had cast ballots, a turnout of 54.8 percent.

UN peace envoy Robert Serry expressed hope the poll would "serve as a prelude to general elections being organized next year in all of the occupied Palestinian territory in the context of reconciliation" between Hamas and Fatah.

hc/jlw (dpa, AP, AFP)