|Palestinians walk past election banners|
The Palestinian Election Committee says early results show Fatah winning a substantial majority in elections for 84 municipal councils in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Smaller factions took four councils, with four municipalities undecided. Hamas disputed the figures and said it was not ready to concede defeat.
Exit polls revealed strong victories for Fatah in several Gaza Strip authorities, including Rafah in the south, Beit Lahia in the north and Absan in the center.
Hamas claimed victories in the El-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza and in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah, where it appears to have won 12 of 15 city council seats.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the PFLP, appeared to have won in the Christian towns of Beit Sahur and Beit Jala. In Bethlehem, Hamas won six of seven council seats allocated to Muslims, while Fatah and the PFLP split the eight seats allocated to Christians.
Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser called it a historical day. "Today, we witness here in Bethlehem, elections after an absence of 29 years," he said. " So the people, they are very anxious to practice their right, their right to choose their representatives and becoming Bethlehem councilors."
Hamas rejected the preliminary results and complained of voting violations in some areas.
Hamas has only recently begun taking part in the electoral process scoring a substantial victory against Fatah in an earlier round of municipal voting in Gaza in January. They also had a strong showing in West Bank voting in December, although Fatah came out the winner. A final round of voting is planned for later this year.
More than 2500 candidates vied for the council seats and turnout was high, 80 percent in Gaza and 70 percent in the West Bank, officials said. Some 400,000 Palestinians were eligible to vote.
Official results are expected to be announced on Sunday.