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After Gaza war, poll finds support for Hamas rises

JERUSALEM -- The popularity of the Hamas militant group among Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has spiked significantly following the 50-day war with Israel, according to an opinion poll released Tuesday.

The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and headed by leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, indicates that 61 percent of Palestinians would choose the Islamic militant group's leader, Ismail Haniyeh, for president if Palestinian presidential elections were held today.

Only 32 percent would vote for current President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas' rival, the survey suggested.

The support for Haniyeh marks a stark increase from a poll in June, conducted by the same pollster, which found only 41 percent of Palestinians backed the Hamas figure. At the time, Abbas had 53 percent support.

The poll also suggests a majority of Palestinians — 72 percent — support adopting Hamas' armed approach in the West Bank.

The research center said it is the first time in eight years that a majority of Palestinians has voiced such support for the Hamas leader. But, it said, Hamas' popularity might fall in coming months, as it did following previous Israel-Hamas conflicts.

Polling started on the last day of the war, on Aug. 26, and continued during the first four days of the cease-fire, the research center said.

The poll said 79 percent of respondents believe Hamas won the war, and 86 percent support the renewal of rocket fire on Israel if a blockade on Gaza is not lifted, one of Hamas' main demands.

But 25 percent said armed groups in the Gaza Strip should give up their weapons after the blockade ends and elections are held.

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