RAMALLAH, Palestine/OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party was ahead in most of the West Bank’s main cities after municipal elections that highlighted persistent divisions with its rival Hamas, results showed Sunday.
Voting took place Saturday only in the occupied West Bank, controlled by Fatah, and not in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Hamas movement.
Attempts to hold the first joint elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006 failed after the two movements were not able to reach an agreement.
Hamas did not present candidates under its party label in the vote.
Official figures showed turnout at 53.4 percent, or nearly the same as local elections in the West Bank in 2012, electoral commission chief Hanna Nasser told journalists in Ramallah. However, turnout was far lower in large cities than in surrounding communities, with the lowest in Nablus, the main city in the northern West Bank, where it was less than 21 percent.
Ramallah, the Palestinian political capital, saw turnout of less than 40 percent.
Fatah’s list was notably ahead in the cities of Jenin, Jericho and Hebron. More than half of the 536 lists participating in the elections were not registered as being affiliated with any party.
While Hamas did not field candidates under its party name, the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for a boycott.
It said it would refuse to participate in an election while hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails were on hunger strike. The prisoners began the hunger strike on April 17, demanding better conditions.
A lawyer says Palestinian hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti denies the authenticity of a video purportedly showing him eating secretly in his cell.
Khader Shkirat, who met with Barghouti for three hours Sunday, says his client lost 13 kilograms since a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinians detained by Israel began April 17.
Shkirat says Barghouti told him he would escalate the protest soon by refusing to drink water. The prisoners seek better conditions.
Israel moved Barghouti into isolation at the start of the strike.
Last week, Israel released a video allegedly showing Barghouti snacking on cookies and a candy bar.
Shkirat says his client told him the cell featured in the video, with a bunk bed, is much nicer than the run-down single-bed cell with a smelly blanket where he is held.
The failure of Hamas and Fatah to reconcile is seen as a major obstacle to any settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The West Bank and Gaza have not participated in an election together since 2006, when Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary polls, sparking a conflict that nearly led to civil war in Gaza the following year.
Escalating tensions between Hamas and the more moderate Fatah led to Hamas’ seizure of Gaza in 2007, while Abbas’ party was left with control of the West Bank, occupied by Israel for 50 years.
Abbas’ presidential term was meant to end in 2009, but he has remained in office with no elections organized.