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Hamas Wins Majority of Palestinian Parliament Seats


The radical Islamic group Hamas has won a stunning victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections that gave it a decisive majority in the legislature. Election officials say Hamas won 76 of the 132 seats in parliament, while the Fatah party, which has dominated Palestinian politics for decades, secured only 43.

The Hamas victory ends Fatah's rule of the Palestinian Authority and severely complicates efforts to restart the stalled peace process with Israel.

The United States, European Union and Israel classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel and in the last five years militants from the group have killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide attacks.

President Bush made it clear he will not deal with Hamas until it abandons violence.

"I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform and I know you can't be a partner in peace if your party has got an armed wing," said Mr. Bush.

President Bush says the strong vote for Hamas and the weak support for Fatah, the party founded by the late Yasser Arafat, shows the Palestinian people want change.

"Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo," added Mr. Bush. "The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care."

When the Hamas victory became clear, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his cabinet resigned. Officials expect Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ask Hamas to form a new government.

President Bush says he hopes Mr. Abbas, who is also the leader of Fatah, will stay in office. Before the vote, the Palestinian president threatened to resign if Hamas blocks his programs in the legislature.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says any government that emerges, if it wants international acceptance, will have to adopt the basic tenets of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Anyone who wants to govern the Palestinian people and do so with the support of the international community, has got to be committed to a two-state solution, must be committed to the right of Israel to exist," said Ms. Rice.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who led an international observer team to monitor the elections, says he hopes Hamas will act, in his words, "responsibly."

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

Middle East analysts are describing the election results as a political earthquake.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi heads the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in East Jerusalem.

He says Fatah's historical claims of political legitimacy did not convince Palestinian voters who are weary of corruption, unemployment and a lack of security, especially in the Gaza Strip.

"They claimed legitimacy from the old days of the revolution and legitimacy from the legacy of Yasser Arafat," he said. "This exposed that they are naked in the street and did not have a constituency. Hamas, on the other side, they were well prepared and introduced themselves as an alternative."

Hamas has gained popularity in the West Bank and Gaza for its charity work and firm position against peace talks with Israel.

By winning a significant majority in parliament, the group will be in a strong position to oppose negotiations and support a greater role for Islam in the everyday life of Palestinians.