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Thursday, January 26, 2006 - Page updated at 08:59 AM

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Arabs jubilant at Hamas victory

The Associated Press

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Jubilant Arabs welcomed Hamas' apparent win in Palestinian parliamentary elections and analysts said it could provide a boost for other Islamic militant groups.

"This is a victory to all the region's free people," said Ayyoub Muhanna, a 29-year-old Lebanese who owns a spare parts shop in the southeastern town of Rashaya. "The Palestinians gave their vote to the party that gave of its blood."

In Iran — which is accused by Israel and the United States of supplying Hamas and other Palestinian militants with weapons and funding — state-run radio put the news of Hamas' victory at the top of its afternoon news broadcast, saying the vote showed that Palestinians support resistance against Israel.

"Now the real representatives of the Palestinian people have come to power," said Javad Majidi, a student at Iran's Tehran University.

Jihad-Daneshgai, a semi-governmental cultural body active in Iranian universities, congratulated Hamas, saying the victory "angers the arrogant leaders of the U.S. and the occupiers of Jerusalem (Israel)."

Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met Hamas and other militant leaders in Damascus last week, although the Islamic cleric-run regime insists it only gives the groups moral support.

But some said a Hamas victory could backfire.

"Hamas' role was greatly respected and embraced because it was a resistance movement," Sami Moubayed, a Syrian analyst, told The Associated Press.

"Now, they will naturally be prone to fail like any other movement that entered the political arena, because they will have a very hard time to deliver on their promises," he said.

"The Palestinian Authority is corrupt and Hamas will now share the blame," he added. "Resistance is something very honorable. Politics is a dirty game."

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Leaders of both Hamas and the ruling Fatah Party said Hamas had won an outright majority of parliamentary seats. That gives them the right to form the next Palestinian government, although it was not clear if they would choose to do so.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate, will remain head of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is responsible for dealings with Israel.

"What happened was tantamount to an earthquake," said Muhammad Jalbout, a Palestinian living in Syria.

He blamed the United States for indirectly helping Hamas win by not exerting enough pressure on Israel to implement agreements reached with Abbas' government and which would have reduced tensions in Palestinian areas.

Dawood al-Shirian, a Saudi who hosts a political talk show on Dubai TV, said a Hamas win "will reflect positively on the political process, because Hamas has a good reputation in the Palestinian street."

Hamas' participation in the political process is also "an indirect recognition" of the 1993 Oslo agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis, which the group has long rejected, because the Palestinian Authority was founded as a result of the Oslo agreement, al-Shirian said.

Al-Shirian said he expected the group to be tough negotiators if peace talks are reopened between Israelis and Palestinians.

"They will be the Arab Sharon," he said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "They will be tough, but only a tough group can snatch concessions from Israel."

Moubayed and others predicted that Hamas' victory will spur other Islamist groups in the region to seek more political participation.

Essam el-Aryan, a spokesman for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood — which recently increased the number of its seats in Egypt's parliament from 17 to 88 — said the Brotherhood was jubilant.

"This is a great victory for Hamas," he said.

But he added that Hamas now faces the challenge "of maintaining good relations with the Arab governments and world powers to secure support for the Palestinian cause."

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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