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Students revel as Hamas bloc wins West Bank university poll

By AFP - May 19,2022 - Last updated at May 19,2022

Palestinian students supporting the Islamic Hamas movement celebrate a victory in student elections at Birzeit University on the outskirts of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, on Thursday (AFP photo)

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories — Hamas supporters celebrated on Thursday a landslide student election win at a top West Bank university, results experts said further point to the Islamists’ growing support in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Hamas’s Al Wafaa’ Islamic bloc won 28 of the 51 seats on the student council at Birzeit University, marking the first time Islamist-aligned candidates have gained control of the body.

The bloc aligned with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas’ secular Fateh movement won just 18 seats.

Students paraded Hamas’ green flag across campus, as crowds of young men bellowed chants more often heard in the Gaza Strip, a separate Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist group.

“Our victory in these elections confirms the support [for Hamas] of the Palestinian people,” Osaid Qaddoumi, one of the bloc’s candidates told AFP, echoing statements made by Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas chief in Gaza.

The general Palestinian population has not been to the polls since 2006.

Abbas scrapped elections scheduled for last year citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their capital.

But Palestinian analysts said Abbas baulked out of fears Hamas would also trounce Fateh across the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 June war.

Birzeit’s vice president, Ghassan Al Khatib, said some saw the campus vote as “a test for measuring public opinion”, with no general elections on the horizon.

Hugh Lovatt, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the Birzeit polls were perceived as a type of bellwether.

The make-up of the student body was “seen as more representative of Palestinian and the voter pool is seen to be representative of Palestinian dynamics — that’s why it matters”, he told AFP.

Fateh, which dominates the Palestinian Authority (PA) that rules the West Bank, used to dominate student councils in the territory.

Aref Jafal, a political analyst, said the results were as much about students wanting to “punish the Fateh movement... for its poor performance”.

He noted the PA’s poor handling of a recent teacher’s strike, as well as the death of prominent rights activist Nizar Bannat in Palestinian custody.

Hamas praised the results as “a rejection of the normalisation” and “security coordination”, in a reference to the Fateh-led Palestinian Authority’s ties with Israel.

Hamas official Fathi Hammad said: “The student movement has proven that [the youth] is the fuel to the revolution.”

 

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