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Hamas Seeks to Calm Gaza

Since winning last week's Palestinian legislative elections, leaders of the Islamic militant group Hamas have said they want to work closely with members of the defeated Fatah Party to govern the Palestinian territories. In the Gaza Strip where Hamas won 16 of 24 seats being contested, this message is receiving a mixed welcome. Residents of the area say they are proud of how Palestinians carried out a free and fair democratic election, but many are unsure of what comes next.

Just days after they voted in historic Palestinian elections these workers have returned to their job of building a new house in the Shekh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City. The area is solidly middle class and it is one of the few neighborhoods of Gaza City where new construction activity is taking place.

The area is home to many bureaucrats and senior officials who work for the Palestinian Authority. This worker, Said abu Warda, says he voted for Hamas, in part because of the corruption he says so many members of the Palestinian Authority engaged in.

"This is the end of corruption. Look what was happening before. The Palestinian Authority figures they had $5-million villas, and some had $80 million in their accounts. We have nothing, and are happy for that [Hamas victory]," he said.

But Said abu Warda's co-worker Mohammed Umara says he is not happy. He and his family are Fatah supporters although he says he respects the results of the election.

"I am Fatah. I hate Hamas. But after the election and I saw the results we all have to respect the results of the elections," said Umara.

The man who will now represent the Shekh Radwan District in the Palestinian Legislative Council, or parliament is Ahmad Bahar, a longtime Hamas activist who is also a professor of Arabic at the Islamic University of Gaza. Bahar helped to establish Hamas in the area, and won an overwhelming victory in the district he will now represent. Bahar says Palestinians should not have to put up with corruption.

"We want to end bribery. We want to end corruption. We want to end what is called the middleman and then once we achieve this, things will be great for the people here," he said.

Bahar says he is not worried about threats by international donors to cut aid to Palestinians because much of the aid money sent to the Palestinian Authority before the elections was stolen, and most Palestinians never benefited from it. He says Hamas can run the government.

"Hamas can do it. Hamas has the professionals. Hamas is a big movement, with professionals and technocrats. We have everybody, but Hamas wants everybody to share in this. We want Fatah to share, we want the leftists and the democratic parties. We want everybody. We want to be all together to run this place," he added.

Ahmad Bahar's message of inclusion is being echoed by other Hamas leaders. However Fatah activists, many of whom are members of the police, continue to stage noisy demonstrations saying they do not trust Hamas.

Still, many Gazans do.

"We expect the situation to get better. It will not get worse, it will get better," commented Haider Abu Karsh, who owns an upscale clothing store in Gaza City.

Others, however, are not so sure. A man who owns a nearby store and who asked not to be identified says political tensions could erupt into violence at any time.

"I am worried that after the elections there could be chaos here," he said. "Someone can come and do anything which will allow things to boil up."

And so Gazans are waiting, waiting to see if their votes for Hamas will being them order and stability and a corruption free government, or whether their votes will result in more violence between Palestinian factions and a cutoff of foreign aid that will add hardship to their lives. It is a result that few would have imagined last week when they cast their ballots.