Governments across the region were struggling to adjust to the smashing and unexpected Hamas win in Palestinian parliamentary voting Wednesday. The militant wing of the party has carried out scores of deadly attacks on Israel and is considered a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.
Leading hard-line states in the region, led by Syria and Iran, hailed the vote as a blow to Israel and a rejection of U.S.-backed plans to forge a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in Tehran that Palestinian voters "chose the option of resistance" in overwhelmingly backing Hamas over the more moderate ruling Fatah party.
Syria's official al-Baath newspaper predicted that the United States and other Western powers would have to drop their diplomatic boycott of Hamas in the wake of Wednesday's vote.
"The Europeans, and especially the Americans, who have rejected this victory, have no other choice than to submit to reality and work with the new situation," the paper said.
But other regional leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, warned Hamas against any immediate break in peace talks with Israel.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf told reporters in Geneva that Hamas should be given "a chance," noting that Israel's hawkish Ariel Sharon evolved as prime minister into an advocate for peace with the Palestinians.
"Let us hope Hamas ends up like that," he said.
Thousands of Fatah March in West Bank
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Fatah activists marched to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' compound, police briefly stormed the parliament building in Gaza and security forces clashed with Hamas gunmen on Saturday as the long-ruling party lashed out in anger for its devastating election loss.
....."The security forces will stay. Hamas has no power meddling with the security forces," Jibril Rajoub, Abbas' national security adviser, told the hundreds of Fatah activists at Abbas' compound.
The group, which included gunmen, marched to the compound in Ramallah and peacefully prayed at Yasser Arafat's grave. "We came to you Abu Amar to forgive us for what happened," they chanting, referring to the late Palestinian leader by his nickname.
Abbas' security force prevented the activists from approaching his nearby office in the compound, known as the muqaata. Outside the compound, some militants shot in the air.
.....In Damascus, Syria, Hamas' top leader Khaled Mashaal reiterated Saturday that his group seeks a partnership with all political parties but also wants to reform the government. In a reference to Fatah, Mashaal warned that those "who might try block the work because they are out of power" would be held responsible if reforms are blocked.
....."We are now no longer part of the cease-fire," one of the gunmen, Nasser Haras, told the crowd. Palestinian militant groups agreed last year to a cease-fire with Israel.
.....The Fatah Revolutionary Council, a secondary party organ, on Friday expelled six members who had run as independents and lost. About 150 other renegade candidates were ordered expelled from the party.
The car of one of the independents, Burhan Jarar, was torched Saturday in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas' ideologue, said the group might form a government of technocrats with no connection to Hamas, a move that could relieve some of the international pressure on the group.
Hamas rejects donor 'blackmail'
A senior Hamas leader has rejected demands that the Islamic militant group must renounce violence to prevent aid cuts for the Palestinian Authority.
Ismail Haniya, who headed Hamas' election list, said they would not give in to "blackmail" by foreign donors.
.....But Mr Haniya told the Reuters news agency: "This aid cannot be a sword over the heads of the Palestinian people and will not be material to blackmail our people, to blackmail Hamas and the resistance. It is rejected."