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Hamas landslide shakes Mideast

Bush: 'Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo'


Mahmoud Abbas

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- The Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas, which has said it favors the destruction of Israel, won a landslide victory in Palestinian elections, securing 76 seats in the 132-member legislature, officials said Thursday.

The preliminary results showed Fatah, which has held power since the creation of the Palestinian Authority, garnered only 43 seats, dramatically shifting the political landscape in the volatile region.

The 13 remaining seats went to smaller parties and independents.

Even before results were announced, the outcome was apparent. "We have lost the elections; Hamas has won," said Saeb Erakat, a Palestinian lawmaker with Fatah.

President Bush -- whose Middle East policy includes support for emerging democracies -- said Thursday he would not deal with Hamas unless it renounced terrorism. (Watch Bush face tough questioning -- 5:37)

"We don't have a government yet, so you're asking me to speculate on what the government will look like," Bush told reporters during a White House news conference. "I have made it very clear, however, that a political party that articulates the destruction of Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal."

"I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has already accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, Erakat said. The Fatah-led Palestinian Authority Cabinet also has resigned.

Bush said, "we would hope [Abbas] would stay in office and work to move the process forward." The president acknowledged that the election appeared to "open the eyes" of the Palestinian "old guard."

"Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo," Bush said.

"The people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can get a decent education and they can find health care."

"It's a wake-up call to the leadership," Bush said, many of whom are holdovers from the days of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Shots and scuffles

In the West Bank, Hamas and Fatah supporters scuffled Thursday outside the Palestinian parliament building when Hamas supporters attempted to raise the green Hamas flag.

Shots were fired into the air, observers said. The scuffle came as thousands of Palestinians celebrated the election results in Ramallah and Gaza.

The Hamas victory marks the first opportunity for the group -- which the United States and Israel consider to be a terrorist organization -- to run a government. Hamas has operated a successful network of charities and schools in Gaza. (What is Hamas?)

Hamas' military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military.

Longtime Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi offered a possible explanation as to how Hamas leaders may respond to concerns about their ideology.

"Hamas is trying to be moderate at least in its political presentation -- trying to maybe respond to some of the fears and reservations expressed by Palestinians and by the international community," she said. "However, we feel when you are extremely ideological, it's not going to be easy for you to shed your ideology in favor of approval -- whether internal or international."

About 1,073,000 Palestinians voted, a turnout of 77 percent of registered voters, said Hana Naser of the Central Election Commission.

A final result that might have some slight change will be released within a day or two, he said. All but 5 percent of the votes have been counted, he said.

Erakat said "Fatah will not take part in any national unity government." Instead, "Fatah will try to redefine itself." (Reaction to vote)

Olmert: 'Will not negotiate'

On Wednesday, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel could not accept a situation in which Hamas in its current configuration -- committed to the destruction of Israel -- was a part of the Palestinian Authority.

"I will not negotiate with a government that does not meet its most basic obligations -- to fight terrorism. We are prepared to assist the Palestinians and [Abbas] very much but they must meet their commitments," Olmert said, according to a statement released by his office.

Hamas, which boycotted the last election in 1996, capitalized on widespread dissatisfaction with what is seen as corruption within the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, and a perceived inability by the authority to manage the affairs of the Palestinians.

Fatah was formed in 1965 by Arafat, who died in November 2004, and dominated Palestinian politics for decades as the mainstream Palestinian nationalist movement.

"Mostly, they were voting for opposition and voting against Fatah -- against corruption, against nepotism, against the failure of the peace process, and against the lack of leadership," said Mustafa Barghouti with the Palestinian National Initiative, a democratic opposition movement.

He said Wednesday "was a great day for Palestine. This is the best democratic practice ever in the Arab world." (Watch Gaza residents talk about why election day is so important -- 2:32)

CNN's John Vause, Guy Raz and Ben Wedeman contributed to this report.

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