West Bank Palestinians vote in local elections

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank voted for mayors and local councils in municipal elections on Saturday, their first democratic exercise in years.

This split is widely seen as a major obstacle to any settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah says Hamas prevented its members from taking part in the election.

Fatah refused to recognise the vote, and Hamas and Fatah have since 2007 ruled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, respectively.

Voting for several hundred municipal councils opened at schools across the West Bank at 7:00 a.m. local time [0500 UTC].

Only 145 West Bank localities were up for vote, after the more than 200 others either failed to submit an electoral list or submitted only one, meaning automatic appointment, according to the Palestinian Central Election Commission.

Hamas did not run any candidates under its party label in the vote.

Official results are expected later Sunday.

However, turnout was far lower in large cities than in surrounding communities, with the lowest in Nablus, the main city in the northern West Bank, where it was less than 21 percent.

A man looks for his name on a voter's list at a polling station in the West Bank city of Nablus, Saturday, May 13, 2017.

Even so, "municipal elections are better than nothing" in a country where "the situation is unlike anywhere else in the world", said Zina Masri, who voted before going to work.

Official figures for Saturday's election showed turnout at 53.4 per cent - almost the same as the turnout for local elections in the West Bank in 2012, said electoral commission chief Hanna Nasser in Ramallah. Both territories remain under partial Israeli military control.

Senwar's election symbolized the rise of the military wing's influence over Hamas' political branch and its decision-making process.

What this means for the future of Palestinian elections is unclear, though with Abbas over a decade into a four-year term in office, there's a sense among voters that their vote really doesn't count for much, and that the Palestinian Authority largely stumbles along on its own momentum.

He met US President Donald Trump in Washington on May 4 and is expected to do so again when Trump travels to the Middle East later this month.