For the first time in a decade, Palestinians are going to the polls today to vote in parliamentary elections. Opinion polls point to a close race between Fatah, the ruling faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the militant Hamas movement. Israeli and US officials fear a strong showing by Hamas could herald an end to Middle East peacemaking.
Also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas is officially committed to destroying the Jewish state. It has also carried out dozens of suicide bombings during past Palestinian uprisings. In the West it has been branded a terrorist group. However its anti-corruption platform appears to have struck a chord, and rattled the ruling party.
Fatah has been credited with leading the long struggle for Palestinian statehood. But it has been dogged by accusations of corruption, while internal wrangling between the old guard and younger leaders has caused deep divisions within the movement.
Hundreds of international monitors are surveying today’s vote – among them, former US President Jimmy Carter. Security forces have been ordered to prevent disruption or cheating during the ballot. Militant groups have also jointly pledged to prevent trouble.
Exit polls are expected shortly after voting ends with first results emerging this evening.