Hamas hails student council vote win at top West Bank university as referendum on its strength

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RAMALLAH, West Bank — Supporters of the Islamic militant Hamas have won student council elections at the West Bank's flagship university, Bir Zeit, defeating rivals from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

The last Palestinian general election was held in 2006, and student council elections offer a rare gauge of the mood among future elites. Hamas and Fatah remain bitter opponents, despite repeated reconciliation attempts since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Abbas in 2007. Since the takeover, Abbas' security forces have been clamping down on Hamas in the West Bank.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said Thursday that the Bir Zeit vote was "a referendum on the movement's strength" in the West Bank.

The university says Hamas won 26 of 51 seats in Wednesday's vote, while Fatah was the largest faction last year.

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