Hamas leader’s popularity rises: opinion poll

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli attacks in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have boosted the popularity of the Islamist group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh among Palestinians in the territory and in the West Bank, according to a poll on Monday.

The survey by the West Bank-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research showed that if new presidential elections were held, Haniyeh would receive 47 percent of the vote compared with 46 percent for President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Fatah faction.

The figures represented a sharp strengthening of Haniyeh’s popularity. He served as prime minister in the Hamas-led government Abbas dismissed after Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah in June.

The centre’s previous poll, in December, gave Gaza-based Haniyeh just 37 percent of a potential presidential vote compared with 56 percent for Abbas, whose peace efforts with Israel are opposed by Hamas.

The latest poll was conducted shortly after Israel ended an offensive in the Gaza Strip in early March that killed more than 120 Palestinians, almost half of them were identified as civilians.

Israel said the operation was aimed at stopping cross-border rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

According to the survey, Hamas’s breaching of the Gaza Strip’s Rafah border crossing with Egypt in January also contributed to Haniyeh’s popularity among Palestinians.

“These developments managed to present Hamas as successful in breaking the siege and as a victim of Israeli attacks,” commentary accompanying the poll said.

Lack of progress in Abbas’s peace negotiations with Israel also gave Hamas a boost, the poll indicated.

The survey found that if new parliamentary elections were to take place, Hamas would receive 35 percent of the vote and Fatah 42 percent, compared to 46 percent for Fatah and 34 percent for Hamas in an opinion poll in January.

The current survey polled 1,270 Palestinians in Arab East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It had a margin of error of three percentage points.

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