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Joy, Despair, Shock and Hope - All Greet Hamas Election Victory


Initial reactions to the apparent victory by the militant Islamic group Hamas in Wednesday's Palestinian elections run the gamut from shock and despair to cautious hope and joy.

Hamas's rise to power is being widely described as a political earthquake with everyone feeling the tremors.

For Palestinian officials and Fatah party members there is an overwhelming sense of shock. "We woke up today and the sky was a different color," said Saeb Erekat, long-time Fatah member and peace negotiator.

Palestinian political analyst, Mahdi Abdelhadi of the Jerusalem-based PASSIA policy research center, told VOA the election outcome shows the level of discontent with Fatah.

"The people voted not for Hamas, people voted against Fatah," said Abdelhadi.

While Hamas activists reveled in their victory, Fatah supporters despaired and at one point a brief scuffle between the two broke out in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

For Israelis it seemed like a nightmare come true. Many were glued to their radios and televisions as events unfolded. Political leaders called urgent meetings to discuss the situation. Some conservative politicians said Israel should never have allowed Hamas to take part in the elections, while some liberals said Israel should have done more to support President Mahmoud Abbas. But there was broad consensus across the political spectrum that there could be no relations with Hamas, which is widely considered a terrorist group.

Hamas has been behind numerous deadly attacks against Israelis in recent years and has as part of its charter the aim to destroy Israel.

On Thursday, top Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar did offer to extend the group's truce with Israel, if Israel would reciprocate.

Israeli Labor Party lawmaker, Ami Ayalon, says there can be no dialogue with Hamas or any chance for peace negotiations without fundamental change.

Speaking on Israel radio, Ayalon said Hamas cannot simply change tactics, it must make a real change and recognize Israel's right to exist.

The call for Hamas to change has come from many world leaders, including President Bush, who said the group could not be a partner for peace unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist.

International election monitors are holding out cautious hope that Hamas might indeed change. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who led an international observer team from his Carter Center in Atlanta and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute, said he hopes Hamas will act "responsibly."

"My hope is that Hamas will take a position [that follows] international standards of responsibility concerning the maintanence of peace that will make it possible for governments to accept them and to communicate and deal with the new [Hamas] government," he said.

President Carter praised the election process, saying from what he could tell it was absolutely free and absolutely fair.

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