Islamic militant group Hamas has swept nearly two-thirds of seats in first-ever Gaza Strip council elections, unofficial results showed, dealing a blow to President Mahmoud Abbas.
Results collated by Reuters for the 118 seats on 10 councils showed on Friday that candidates from the Hamas list had won just over 65 percent against nearly 30 percent for Abbas's Fatah movement and its allies. Some seats went to independents.
Abbas has been trying to win a ceasefire from militants spearheading a 4-year-old revolt and prevent a chaotic power vacuum in Gaza when Israeli troops and settlers withdraw this year under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement plan".
The local poll was seen as a key test of support for the Islamists, who boycotted the January 9 presidential election that Abbas won by a landslide on a platform of ending violence in order to allow new statehood talks with Israel.
Hamas, sworn to the Jewish state's destruction, has won many hearts not only for being at the forefront of the fighting but also for charities that help needy Palestinians in the absence of government support.
"It was a competition for the purpose of serving the Palestinian people and creating a better life," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, reacting to the poll results. "We see this as a victory for the Palestinian people."
Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, did not comment immediately on the unofficial results. The electoral commission was due to make an official announcement later on Friday.
Voter turnout topped 80 percent for the local poll -- considerably higher than at the presidential election for a successor to Yasser Arafat.
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