GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The Hamas militant group accused the Palestinian Election Committee (search) on Saturday of distorting the results of a round of municipal voting to make it appear that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party — which came out ahead — had swept the poll.
Committee head Jamal Shobaki, who released the results to The Associated Press on Friday, told a news conference on Saturday that Fatah won in 51 of 104 municipalities, and Hamas in 13. The remainder were taken by other factions or coalitions.
Thursday's vote was the third of four rounds of municipal elections, and was not necessarily a predictor of parliamentary elections in January because local issues and candidates' clan membership figured heavily .
The election committee intentionally avoided announcing that Fatah (search), headed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (search), ran unopposed in some areas to make it appear its candidates had trounced Hamas, said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza. He said, however, that Hamas would not officially challenge the results.
"The announcement by the local election committee was biased," Abu Zuhri said. "It was a maneuver on the part of the election committee to present the numbers in an indirect way to favor one faction, and we will tell our people the truth."
Fatah — under fire for its running a corruption-ridden government — was not expected to make a strong showing in the municipal voting. Hamas, by contrast, has been taking credit for Israel's recent withdrawal from Gaza, and was expected to do well.
But the militant group's public standing suffered after some of its homemade rockets blew up at a rally last week, killing 21 people and wounding dozens of others. Hamas blamed Israel for the explosion, and fired barrages of rockets at an Israeli town that borders Gaza.
Israel responded with airstrikes at Hamas targets and arrest raids, rounding up some 35 Hamas members who were either candidates in the municipal elections or active in the voting. Of those arrested, 17 won the election, Shobaki said.
Hamas said the Israeli arrest campaign hurt the group's chances in the municipal vote.