Preliminary results in Palestinian local elections show the ruling Fatah party came out ahead.
But there was a warning to President Mamoud Abbas in the strong showing of the militant Hamas group.
In accordance with predictions, Abbas’s Fatah took 61 of the 104 local councils in the West Bank, while Hamas won control of 28.The remaining 15 went to other factions.
The results point to Hamas possibly making big gains if it takes part in parliamentary elections set for January.
Thursday’s poll was the third phase of local elections for more than 1000 council seats. It is an important step in the Palestinians’ move towards a democratic independent state.
It was also the first poll since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza earlier this month, but since then there has been a marked increase in border violence.
The strong showing of Hamas indicates grass-roots support based on their hardline stance, coupled with charity support networks.
Observers say if this support is translated into seats in the parliamentary poll, the prospect for the road map to peace looks uncertain.
Hamas has refused to disarm – a fact which Israel insists bars them from participating in the January poll.