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Palestinians Described as 'Simply in Shock' After Hamas Win

I'm Steve Ember with IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

The Islamic group Hamas won seventy-six of the one hundred thirty-two seats in the Palestinian parliament. Hamas defeated the ruling Fatah party.

The majority is enough for Hamas to rule by itself in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Fatah won forty-three seats. Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and his government resigned. On Friday Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, said he will ask Hamas to form the next government.

The group is sworn to the destruction of Israel and has refused to disarm. Hamas has carried out many attacks against Israelis. Israel, the United States and the European Union say they will not work with a government led by Hamas. They call it a terrorist organization.

In Iran, the Foreign Ministry says the election will strengthen resistance against Israel. But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says the results will only make the creation of a Palestinian state more difficult.

European Union foreign ministers will meet Monday to discuss the situation. E.U. officials say they cannot give money to a government that carries on an armed fight with Israel.

The international group that wrote the so-called road map to peace will also meet Monday. The members are the United Nations, the United States, Russia and the European Union.

Even as many world leaders expressed displeasure at the results, they praised the exercise in democracy. President Bush said the voting was a reminder that democracy "can open up the world's eyes to reality by listening to people."

Mister Bush described the Hamas victory as a "wake-up call" to the leadership in the Palestinian territories. In his words: "The people are demanding honest government. The people want services." But he added that he did not see how a group that supports the destruction of a country can be a partner in peace.

The nineteen ninety-three Oslo peace agreements created the Palestinian Authority to administer the territories. Hamas does not recognize Israel. Yet the Palestinian Authority must deal with the Israeli government in areas like water and power supplies. The agreements also say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be settled peacefully.

The question is how might Hamas change now that it will control the Palestinian Authority.

Israel will hold national elections at the end of March. Some people think Israel is more likely now to take more steps on its own to separate itself from the Palestinians. Some Israelis say their government never should have given up the Gaza Strip. They say Hamas used the Israeli withdrawal last year for political gain.

Yet many Palestinians say they never expected Hamas to do so well, or Fatah to do so poorly. Palestinian reporter Khalil Assali says: "People are simply in shock."

IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English was written by Nancy Steinbach. Read and listen to our reports at I'm Steve Ember.