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Fatah leads local polls in West Bank cities

© AFP | A Palestinian woman casts her ballot during the municipal elections in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 13, 2017

RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) - 

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party was ahead in most of the West Bank's main cities after municipal elections that highlighted persistent divisions with its rival Hamas, results showed Sunday.

Voting took place on Saturday only in the occupied West Bank, controlled by Fatah, and not in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Islamist movement Hamas.

Attempts to hold the first joint elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006 failed after the two movements were not able to reach an agreement.

Hamas did not present candidates under its party label in the vote.

Official figures showed turnout at 53.4 percent, or nearly the same as local elections in the West Bank in 2012, electoral commission chief Hanna Nasser told journalists in Ramallah.

However, turnout was far lower in large cities than in surrounding communities, with the lowest in Nablus, the main city in the northern West Bank, where it was less than 21 percent.

Ramallah, the Palestinian political capital, saw turnout of less than 40 percent.

Fatah's list was notably ahead in the cities of Jenin, Jericho and Hebron. More than half of the 536 lists participating in the elections were not registered as being affiliated with any party.

While Hamas did not field candidates under its party name, the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine called for a boycott.

It said it would refuse to participate in an election while hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails were on hunger strike. The prisoners began the hunger strike on April 17, demanding better conditions.

The failure of Hamas and Fatah to reconcile is seen as a major obstacle to any settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The West Bank and Gaza have not participated in an election together since 2006, when Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary polls, sparking a conflict that led to near civil war in Gaza the following year.

Escalating tensions between Hamas and the more moderate Fatah led to Hamas's seizure of Gaza in 2007, while Abbas's party was left with control of the West Bank, occupied by Israel for 50 years.

Abbas's presidential term was meant to end in 2009, but he has remained in office with no elections organised.

© 2017 AFP