Committee head Jamal Shobaki, who released the results, 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, led by Abbas, 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.

 

Jamal Shobaki, head of the
election committee

"The announcement by the local election committee was biased," Abu Zuhri said. "It was a manoeuvre on the part of the election committee to present the numbers in an indirect way to favour one faction, and we will tell our people the truth."

 

Fatah - under fire for 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 the Gaza Strip and was expected to do well.

 

Rally explosions

 

But the group's position suffered after explosions at a rally last week which killed 21 people and wounded dozens of others. Hamas blamed Israel for the blasts, suspecting guided missiles from spy planes, and fired barrages of rockets at an Israeli town that borders Gaza.

 

Israel responded with air strikes at Hamas targets and arrest raids, rounding up 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.