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Poll Finds Rising Support for Hamas    09/02 06:22

   The popularity of the Hamas militant group among Palestinians in the West 
Bank and the Gaza Strip has spiked significantly following the 50-day war with 
Israel, according to an opinion poll released Tuesday.

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- The popularity of the Hamas militant group among 
Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has spiked significantly 
following the 50-day war with Israel, according to an opinion poll released 
Tuesday.

   The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research 
and headed by leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, indicates that 61 
percent of Palestinians would choose the Islamic militant group's leader, 
Ismail Haniyeh, for president if Palestinian presidential elections were held 
today.

   Only 32 percent would vote for current President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas' 
rival, the survey suggested.

   The support for Haniyeh marks a stark increase from a poll in June, 
conducted by the same pollster, which found only 41 percent of Palestinians 
backed the Hamas figure. At the time, Abbas had 53 percent support.

   The poll also suggests a majority of Palestinians --- 72 percent --- support 
adopting Hamas' armed approach in the West Bank.

   The research center said it is the first time in eight years that a majority 
of Palestinians has voiced such support for the Hamas leader. But, it said, 
Hamas' popularity might fall in coming months, as it did following previous 
Israel-Hamas conflicts.

   Polling started on the last day of the war, on Aug. 26, and continued during 
the first four days of the cease-fire, the research center said.

   The poll said 79 percent of respondents believe Hamas won the war, and 86 
percent support the renewal of rocket fire on Israel if a blockade on Gaza is 
not lifted, one of Hamas' main demands.

   But 25 percent said armed groups in the Gaza Strip should give up their 
weapons after the blockade ends and elections are held.

   The latest poll, and the poll in June, both surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and 
had a margin of error of 3 percent.

   Also Tuesday, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticized Israel's 
expropriation of West Bank land announced this week, calling for "a more 
reasoned approach" in Israeli diplomacy following Israel's military operation 
in Gaza.

   The expropriation of about 1,000 acres of West Bank land could help clear 
the way for new Jewish settlement construction. Lapid said such moves create 
"redundant arguments with the United States and the world" and criticized the 
timing of the announcement following the Gaza war. Israel's Justice Minister, 
Tzipi Livni, also criticized the move this week.

   Other leading Israeli Cabinet ministers have criticized Prime Minister 
Benjamin Netanyahu's conduct in the recently concluded war, with many saying he 
did not go far enough to neutralize Hamas's fighting ability.

   Netanyahu has spoken vaguely about a new "diplomatic horizon" that has 
emerged following the 50-day Israel-Hamas war. He has given few details on what 
he means.

   But Netanyahu has said that he is not willing to renew peace talks with 
Abbas, saying the Palestinian leader will have to first distance himself from 
Hamas militants. Hamas and Abbas' Palestinian Authority recently agreed to a 
unity deal that saw the formation of a government backed by both factions.

   "He has to choose," Netanyahu told Israeli Channel Two in a weekend 
interview. "It's either yes to Hamas or no to Hamas."


(KA)


 
 
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