Fundamentalists on Top in Hebron Chamber-of-commerce Elections

Moslem fundamentalists scored decisively over candidates of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Tuesday’s elections to the Hebron Chamber of Commerce.

PLO supporters were embittered by the upset, which gave the Islamic list, backed by the Hamas underground, six of 11 seats. Four went to the PLO, which had been favored to win. One independent candidate was elected.

Hamas, which originated in the Gaza Strip shortly after the Palestinian uprising began in December 1987, has become the chief rival of the PLO for control of the intifada and is considered even more uncompromising.

About 1,500 Palestinian merchants and businessmen cast ballots in a carnival atmosphere of blaring music and honking horns. Crowds bore aloft portraits of their favorite candidates. The Chamber-of-Commerce elections, encouraged by the Israeli authorities, were the first in the West Bank since 1964, when the territory was under Jordanian rule.

The Israel Defense Force did not intervene, despite the boisterous setting. The elections had the blessings of the Israeli civil administration.

For that reason they were boycotted by the Communists and by backers of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The only attempted disruption came from two gasoline bombs thrown at a school where a polling station was located. They failed to explode.

Although the Chamber of Commerce is a business association, some Palestinians saw the elections as a step toward the creation of an independent infrastructure in preparation for Palestinian statehood.

According to the Israeli administrators, the elections fit in with an overall policy to provide the Palestinians a greater measure of autonomy.

The apparent winding down of the intifada has encouraged security authorities to relax restrictions.

They are expected to release about 400 prisoners over the weekend on the occasion of the Moslem feast of Id A1 Adha. Most, arrested for throwing stones or gasoline bombs at soldiers, have already served the bulk of their sentences.

In addition, the IDF will reopen streets and alleys in Arab towns that had been sealed off.

The curfew will remain in force in the Gaza Strip, but will start at 10 instead of 8 p.m.

NEXT STORY