Palestinians in the occupied West Bank held municipal elections for representatives on dozens of councils — but the Gaza Strip did not — highlighting the divide between the two territories.
The elections for mayors and local officials are widely seen as a popularity test for President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party.
Fatah’s political rival, Hamas, was boycotting the vote by refusing to produce lists of candidates. Hamas says the vote will only increase tension between the two groups.
Only 145 local councils, out of more than 300, have candidates from multiple parties battling for seats.
The territories have not held joint elections since 2006, when the hardline Hamas militant group gained control in parliament, sparking conflict that has left the areas deeply divided. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip the following year, while Fatah has control of the West Bank.
The rivals are blaming each other for the election not being held in Gaza.
“The elections are happening without national consensus,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoun. “Holding them in the West Bank alone, without Gaza, will cement division.”
Speaking about the political schism, Fatah Deputy Chief Mahmoud al-Aloul said, “Unfortunately this joy is taking place in the West Bank alone because Hamas is preventing the people from practicing this right in Gaza.”
The rival Palestinian governments have been at loggerheads since a civil war in 2007 when Hamas expelled the Palestinian Authority from Gaza. Hamas also has poor relations with neighboring Egypt because Cairo believes armed militants in Gaza are assisting a deadly Islamic State insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.
Both parties were expected to compete in elections last year in both territories, but plans collapsed over differences between Hamas and Fatah. This year Fatah decided to go on with elections in West Bank, the area it controls.
The Palestinian territories have not held a presidential or parliamentary elections since 2005. The president’s term has long since expired.
Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel and much of the West despite recent attempts by the movement to soften its image.