Thousands of Palestinians have been voting in local elections widely seen as a test of strength for the Hamas Islamic militant group. The third phase of the ballot for more than a thousand council seats in the occupied West Bank is also the first Palestinian poll since Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip. Election monitors say turnout has been high in several West Bank villages with people rushing to voting centres decorated with colourful posters and flags.
President Mahmoud Abbas’s dominant Fatah movement faces stiff competition from Hamas, whose charity networks and suicide bombings have won the support of many Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel’s killing of an Al-Aqsa Brigade member in Jenin early on Thursday dealt a fresh blow to peace hopes. The armed Palestinian group has announced an end to its informal truce with Israel. Samer al-Saadi was killed during an army incursion into the West Bank town.
Two members of another radical movement, Islamic Jihad, also died in what Israel has described as a gunfight in the Birqin neighbourhood, west of Jenin. Violence has flared in the Palestinian territories since a deadly blast at a Hamas rally last week which triggered rocket attacks on Israel.