- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Hamas won a huge majority in parliamentary elections as Palestinian voters rejected the longtime rule of the Fatah Party, throwing the future of Mideast peacemaking into question, officials from both major parties said.

Hamas supporters raised their flag over the Palestinian parliament and rushed into the building amid clashes with Fatah loyalists a day after winning parliamentary elections.

The two camps threw stones at each other, breaking windows in the building, as Fatah supporters briefly tried to lower the green Hamas banners. The crowd of about 3,000 Hamas backers cheered and whistled as activists on the roof of the parliament raised the Hamas banner again.

It was the first confrontation between Hamas and Fatah since the Islamic militant group won parliamentary elections on Wednesday.

Palestinian leaders huddled to determine what role the Islamic militant group will play in governing the territories.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will ask Hamas to form the next government, with his defeated Fatah Party weighing whether to form a partnership or serve in the opposition.

A Hamas government, without Fatah as a moderating force, would greatly complicate Abbas’ efforts to restart peace talks. The Islamic militants, who carried out dozens of suicide bombings and seek Israel’s destruction, have said they oppose peace talks and will not disarm. Israel and the United States refuse to deal with Hamas.

The top Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal told Abbas his group is ready for a political partnership, Hamas said.

In a first sign of pragmatism, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said the group would extend its year-old truce if Israel reciprocates. “If not, then I think we will have no option but to protect our people and our land,” he told Associated Press Television News.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. position on Hamas as a terrorist organization has not changed despite the outcome.

“You cannot have one foot in politics and another in terror,” she told an international conference in Davos, Switzerland, via a telephone hookup from Washington.

She said she had called Abbas as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

“The Palestinians have a constitutional process that they will now follow. We ask all parties to respect this process so that it can unfold in an atmosphere of calm and security,” Rice said.

Abbas’ office said she told him that the Bush administration “will continue supporting the elected president and his policies,” said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas aide.

Abbas was elected separately a year ago and remains president. However, the Palestinian leader has said he would resign if he could no longer pursue his peace agenda. The Cabinet and legislature must approve any major initiative by Abbas, giving Hamas tremendous influence over peace moves.

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