GAZA CITY (AFP)-Palestinian officials delayed partial re-elections in the Gaza Strip to stave off a new crisis between Hamas and Fatah, sparked when the fundamentalist group threatened to boycott the polls.
Officials were forced to intervene when Hamas refused to contest the new vote in three Gaza Strip municipalities and one West Bank village, ordered after the main ruling Fatah party demanded a recount of May 5 local elections.
"We have decided to delay the elections until further notice in keeping with a request to avoid all problems on the Palestinian street," said Jamal Shobaki, chairman of the local elections committee, from the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, chairman of an umbrella group of national and Islamist parties, petitioned the local elections committee to delay the vote originally scheduled for Wednesday after Hamas refused to take part.
"The committee can only agree to his request because it is a national consensus," Naja told a news conference in Gaza City.
The partial re-vote affects 37,000 Palestinians living in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, Beit Lahia to the north and the central Bureij refugee camp, which the Islamist group Hamas won by a small majority on May 5.
Ahmed Hilles, a senior Fatah official in Gaza, said his party agreed to the delay but criticised what he called Hamas”s "negative and hasty" boycott.
"Hamas decided not to take part in what is another vote in Rafah, Beit Lahia and al-Bureij," the Islamist group”s spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said. "We call on our people to boycott these elections and not recognise their results."
The showdown came after Egyptian mediators spent a week in the occupied territories on a mission to defuse rumbling disagreements between the radical faction and the main party of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.
Abu Zuhri had reproached Fatah for insisting on the re-vote was held Wednesday and said Hamas first wanted guarantees that they would be fair.
"We agreed on certain guarantees with the Egyptian delegation and Fatah regarding the re-elections, but Fatah retreated from the agreement last night. So there are no guarantees to secure honest reelections," Abu Zurhi said.
Palestinian officials have confirmed the re-vote could affect the overall results in the three municipalities.
Fatah emerged the overall victor in the May 5 elections in more than 80 Palestinian municipalities, but requested a recount of votes in Rafah, Bureij and Beit Lahia.
Hamas”s success in the polls, just months before parliamentary elections in July and the ensuing tension has seen relations between the two groups plummet.
Some Palestinian officials believe a recent spike in violence — which has shaken a de facto truce — was partly engineered by Hamas in the dispute.
Members of Fatah have called for the July 17 elections to be delayed, amid increasing fears that Hamas could make sweeping gains, cutting into Fatah”s power base.