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Palestinians hold elections in West Bank

RAMALLAH, WEST BANK (AP) – Palestinians voted in local elections in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, less than a year after President Mahmoud Abbas called off parliamentary elections that would have likely loosened his party’s grip on power.

Most candidates ran as independents, though many have ties to Abbas’ Fatah party, and the outcomes will largely depend on local dynamics. The militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, is boycotting the elections and refusing to hold them in the isolated territory.

Saturday’s voting was held in urban areas, where there is more visible opposition to Fatah. The elections commission said 377,895 people voted, or 52.82 per cent of those eligible. The commission is widely respected for being professional and impartial.

The internationally recognised Palestinian Authority (PA) administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank in accordance with agreements reached in the 1990s and coordinates with Israel on security, something that is deeply unpopular among Palestinians.

Support for Abbas has plummeted in recent years as the PA has come to be seen as increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Israel’s occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state is well into its sixth decade, with no end in sight.

Abbas indefinitely postponed the first parliamentary elections in 15 years last April, citing Israel’s refusal to say whether it would permit voting in east Jerusalem.

Abbas’ popularity declined even further after last year’s Gaza war, which gave Hamas a major boost. Fatah has regained support since then, but Abbas remains deeply unpopular, according to the most recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey research.

His most recent survey found that 73 per cent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, and that a majority of 55 per cent view the PA as more of a burden than an asset.

Palestinians look for their polling station to cast their votes in the municipal elections at the West Bank town of Beit Furik. PHOTO: AP
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