The Islamic militant group Hamas fared poorer than expected in Palestinian local elections in the West Bank. The participation of Hamas has angered Israel, which sees the group as a terrorist organization.
The ruling Fatah movement of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas won 51 local councils in the West Bank, compared to just 13 for Hamas. Fatah supports the peace process, while Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel.
It was a setback for Hamas, which made gains in the previous two rounds of local elections. The group has been growing in popularity because of its schools and charities, as well as its suicide bombing campaign against Israel. Some Palestinians consider the group an alternative to the Palestinian Authority, which is widely seen as corrupt.
But Hamas lost ground after 21 Palestinians were killed when militants mishandled explosives at a rally in Gaza. Then, Hamas fired rockets at Israel, prompting punishing Israeli air strikes and arrest raids. Many war-weary Palestinians blamed Hamas for the escalation.
But Hamas has an enormous power base in heavily-populated Gaza, and it could still make a strong showing in landmark parliamentary elections in January. That has Israel worried.
"Hamas is part of the problem, not part of the solution," government spokesman Mark Regev told VOA. "They don't want peace. Hamas believes in an ongoing Holy Jihad against the Jewish people. They're not a partner in peace."
But Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat says Hamas participation in elections is democracy at work.
"And I urge the Israelis to keep their noses outside our internal affairs, please," he said. "The way to one authority, the way to one gun, the way to public order has to go through the road of elections."
The Palestinian leader, Mr. Abbas, hopes that if Hamas enters the government, it will abandon violence. But Israel says Hamas should be banned from elections because democracy and terrorism do not go hand-in-hand.