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Hamas makes strong showing in Palestinian election
Updated: 2006-01-26 08:51

The Islamist group Hamas was just behind the ruling Fatah party in Palestinian elections on Wednesday and sure of a big voice in parliament that could keep peacemaking frozen, exit polls indicated.

The vote in the first Palestinian legislative election for a decade made it likely that the militant group could win cabinet posts in a power-sharing deal, a worrying prospect for Israel and the United States.

Three exit polls all put Fatah ahead, but by margins of only between three and seven points. They gave Hamas 35 to 44 percent and the long-dominant Fatah, party of the late Yasser Arafat, 42 to 47 percent.

Hamas was tipped to win at least 53 of the 132 seats against 58 for Fatah -- potentially even putting it in a position to try to form a cabinet itself.

Hamas makes strong showing in Palestinian election
Supporters of the Fatah movement chant slogans after polling stations closed for the Palestinian elections in Gaza City January 25, 2006. [Reuters]
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniya told Reuters the group was studying whether to consider joining any coalition government.

Both sides claimed victory and celebrated noisily. Towns in the Gaza Strip and West Bank filled with the sound of honking car horns as activists chanted slogans and fighters poured bursts of gunfire into the night sky.

"Our choice is Islam and we want change as soon as possible," said Hamas supporter Nidal al-Jaberi in Hebron.

A few streets away, gunman Mohammed Amr said: "This result shows that Fatah will always be on top."

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