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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 May, 2005, 05:41 GMT 06:41 UK
Fatah 'ahead' in Palestinian poll
Fatah flag flown as supporters confront Hamas supporters in Rafah
Fatah and Hamas supporters clashed in Rafah over the results
The Fatah movement founded by Yasser Arafat is in the lead over Islamist movement Hamas in Palestinian local elections, preliminary results suggest.

The Election Commission said Fatah won control of 50 of 84 municipalities in the West Bank and Gaza to 28 for Hamas in the latest round of local voting.

Smaller factions took four councils, with two municipalities undecided.

Hamas, which trounced Fatah in the first round of voting in Gaza, said it was too early to concede defeat.

Among Hamas's victories were the large towns of Beit Lahya in northern Gaza, Qalqiliya in the West Bank and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

More than 10,000 Fatah activists marched in Rafah on Friday night demanding a re-run, and clashed with jubilant Hamas supporters. At least six people were injured.

Final and complete results were due on Sunday.

High turnout

Over all turnout in this third round of municipal elections was high, estimated at approximately 82%.

I believe that only the people who are in power, like Fatah, can build me a new house
Hala al-Nuashar
Voter in Rafah

About 2,519 candidates stood for election, including 399 women.

Voting passed off relatively smoothly, but in an incident near Ramallah in the West Bank, masked gunmen burst into a polling station during the vote count and seized three ballot boxes which they set on fire, election officials said.

International election observers are due to deliver their verdict on the election on Friday. The bulk of the seats being contested in this round are in the West Bank, where Fatah has traditionally been stronger than Hamas.

The results will give the competing parties a last chance to gauge their electoral strength ahead of crucial parliamentary polls scheduled for July.

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