Gazans welcome claim of Islamist victory in Egypt

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Monday welcomed the claim of a Muslim Brotherhood victory in Egypt's presidential election, distributing sweets, praising God and expressing hope for a new era of warm relations between Gaza and Egypt.

Gaza, a small, densely populated territory, borders Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The strip's ruling militant Hamas group is a local offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and draws inspiration from the Egyptian organization.

As the Brotherhood claimed victory early Monday in Cairo, dozens of drivers in Gaza City honked their horns and decorated their cars with Palestinian and Egyptian flags, green Hamas banners and posters of Egypt's Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi.

Hamas activists distributed sweets at the main intersections across Gaza, and loudspeakers at local mosques blared out messages of joy and victory. Shopkeepers in Gaza's main commercial center eagerly followed the claim from Egypt.

"The news from Egypt is a great victory for all Muslims and for us in Gaza," said Sameh Ramdan, a 23-year-old student and Hamas supporter.

If Morsi's victory is confirmed in the official result expected on Thursday, it would be the first victory of an Islamist as head of state in the stunning wave of pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring last year.

Gaza has been hit hard by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that severely restricted movement in and out of the territory since Hamas seized power five years ago. Egypt, the primary gateway to the outside world, has loosened the travel restrictions since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, but Gazans continue to face significant delays.

Joyous residents expressed hope for a new era in relations with Egypt.

"We voice our hope to have a real improvement in our lives, to end the blockade and to have free borders with Egypt and the world." Ramdan said. "The people of Egypt didn't vote for themselves only, but also for the good of all Arab and Muslims."