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Hamas Gains in West Bank University Vote

December 10, 2003

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ In a West Bank university election for the student leadership that focused on which party had killed the most Israelis, the violent Hamas swept to victory Wednesday, defeating Yasser Arafat’s Fatah.

The campaign for the student government council at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah featured exploding models of Israeli buses and claims of prowess based on Israeli casualties.

Palestinian suicide bombers have killed more than 400 Israelis in three years of violence. Hamas claimed responsibility for most of the attacks.

In voting Wednesday, Hamas won 25 seats of the 51 on the council, Fatah took 20, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine _ a radical PLO faction _ won five and the People’s Party got the remaining seat.

The last election was held just before the violence erupted, and Hamas won with a two-seat margin over Fatah.

This time, Fatah focused on its military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which has carried out dozens of attacks against Israelis. ``Now we have our struggle. We have the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades striking the occupation every day,″ said Fatah candidate Khaled Samara.

During a two-day campaign, the parties debated, marched through campus with war drums reminiscent of one used by the Prophet Muhammad and waved party flags.

At a debate, the Hamas candidate asked the Fatah candidate: ``Hamas activists in this university killed 135 Zionists. How many did Fatah activists from Bir Zeit kill?″

The Fatah candidate refused to answer, suggesting his rival ``look at the paper, go to the archives and see for yourself. Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades have not stopped fighting the occupation.″

Fatah set up models of Jewish settlements and then blew them up with fireworks. The display was meant to emphasize the group’s focus on attacking settlers and their communities _ considered by Palestinians to be one of the most provocative elements of Israel’s occupation of territory they claim for a state.

Hamas countered by blowing up models of Israeli buses, a tribute to the dozens of suicide bombings its members have carried out in the past three years, killing hundreds of Israelis. Activists held samples of the group’s homemade Qassam rockets _ often fired at Gaza Strip settlements and Israeli towns that border the coastal area.

Student issues were barely touched on because the Palestinians’ main problem is the Israeli occupation, candidates said.

``We have been living under hard conditions. Our students are going through checkpoints, many of them have been scared and arrested, so this is our life now. Our life is resistance,″ Samara said.

Hamas said fighting Israel is the only issue. ``We are a resistance movement and without resistance we have nothing to do,″ said Moussa Kiswani, a Hamas activist.

The campaign was so focused on violent activities that officials at the university _ considered the most liberal of the Palestinian higher education institutions _ were nervous.

``We were worried ... the atmosphere seems very dangerous,″ said Ludna Abdel Hadi, a university spokeswoman.

She said the student elections have wider significance. ``The Bir Zeit elections are like a barometer to measure the political mood on the Palestinian street.″

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