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Palestinian Court Rules Election in West Bank Only, Not Gaza

Palestinian policemen stand guard outside the headquarters of the Central Elections Commission in the West Bank town of El Bireh, Aug. 17, 2016.

The Palestinian high court Monday ruled upcoming municipal elections will be held in the West Bank only, excluding the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, in a move that effectively cancels the anticipated first political contest in a decade between the rival Fatah and Hamas in both territories.

The court ruling affirms the Palestinian political and territorial divide between President Mahmoud Abbas who governs parts of the West Bank and the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza. The ruling will likely only add to tensions between the groups.

Hamas criticized the ruling and called on the Palestinian elections committee not to recognize the court's ruling. “This is a political decision that boosts the division and reflects discrimination,” Hamas said.

The elections were set to take place Oct. 8 but were postponed last month.

The vote would have been the first test of political support for the archrivals since Hamas drove Abbas loyalists from their posts in Gaza in 2007, a year after the militant group won parliamentary elections. Since the Hamas takeover, repeated reconciliation attempts have failed while both sides deepened control over their respective territories.

The court statement Monday asked the Palestinian elections committee to set a new date for the election in the West Bank. It said it expects that date to be around the end of October or early November.

The election in Gaza has been canceled.