militant group sworn to destroy the Jewish state, claimed victory in Palestinian elections – leading to a political earthquake and doubts over the future of Middle East peace talks.
"Hamas has won more than 70 seats in Gaza and the West Bank, which gives it more than 50 percent of the vote," Ismail Haniyeh, a leader of the group, told reporters. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was to ask Hamas to form the next Palestinian government with the defeated Fatah Party expected to serve in the opposition.
Preliminary results gave Hamas 76 of the 132 seats in the chamber, with the ruling Fatah party trailing on 43. Election observers said a lot of support came from Palestinians keen to end the domination of the Fatah movement, which led since late President Yasser Arafat agreed interim peace deals with Israel in the early 1990s.
Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia resigned earlier, telling reporters that the voter’s wishes should be respected. "This is the choice of the people it should be respected," he said. "I think if the majority has now approved and this has been reached, I think Hamas should form a new government. The president should ask Hamas to form a new government."
Mahdi Abdul Hadi, who heads PASSIA, a Palestinian public policy institute, told the Voice of America (VOA) network that Fatah’s claims of political legitimacy did not convince a Palestinian electorate, weary of corruption and government mismanagement.
"They claimed legitimacy from the old days of the revolution and legitimacy from the legacy of Yassar Arafat," he said. "This exposed them as naked in the street and did not have a constituency. Hamas on the other side, they were well prepared and introduced themselves as an alternative. We (Hamas) are not talking about freedom independence and liberation. We are talking about water, electricity, sewage education and health."
Hamas leaders say they are seeking what they describe as a "political partnership" with other Palestinian parties. But Hamas leaders made it clear they have no plans to disarm or recognize Israel, as demanded by Israel the United States and the European Union.
The EU has said it would only work with a government that uses peaceful means. Western aid is vital to running the Palestinian Authority and both the United States and Europe have reportedly suggested it could be cut if Hamas won.
News that Hamas won the ballot came as Christians around the world were reportedly preparing for the fourth annual International Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel on Sunday, January 29.
Millions of Christians in thousands of churches around the world were expected to pray for the peace and security of Israel. The massive event, which will also feature Christian and Israeli dignitaries speaking from the pulpits of mega-churches throughout the United States, will mark the fourth annual International Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel, sponsored by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ).
"Whether in suburban mega-churches with thousands of members or small rural congregations, Christians are uniting in their solidarity with Israel," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, IFCJ’s founder and chairman.
Evangelical Christians "are increasingly concerned with the imminent threats facing Israel and her struggle for survival," the ICFJ said in a statement on its website.
The Fellowship’s Day of Prayer will aim to give Christians a chance to “express their concern for Israel, expand their awareness of Israel’s critical importance in both Biblical history and the geopolitical issues of our day, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” the organization said. (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Israel and the United States).