Hamas appears to have defeated Fatah by a sizable margin in three of the four major West Bank cities where local elections were held yesterday: Nablus, Jenin and Al-Bireh, which is next to Ramallah.

The final results will only be published on Sunday, but early results showed Hamas winning 65 percent of the seats on the Nablus city council, compared to only 15 percent for Fatah. In Jenin, early results showed Hamas winning over 50 percent of the vote, and in Al-Bireh, it was also leading Fatah by a wide margin. Only in Ramallah, a joint list comprised of Fatah and several leftist parties appeared to be in the lead.

Results were not available from the 40 smaller towns where local elections were held yesterday.

Fatah activists attributed the party's poor showing largely to its recent split, evinced when it submitted two competing lists to the Central Elections Commission on Wednesday for the parliamentary elections to be held on January 25. The split caused many Fatah activists to stay home yesterday, leaving the field to Hamas.

It also created a legal imbroglio, when the CEC discovered yesterday that Tanzim militia leader Marwan Barghouti was listed as the first candidate on both the official Fatah slate submitted by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the breakaway slate that Barghouti heads. Thirteen other candidates also appeared on both lists, and both were submitted under the name Fatah.

In an effort to allay the impression of a split in Fatah, two of Barghouti's associates visited him yesterday in the Israeli prison where he is serving five life sentences for murder and then released a statement in his name pledging that "the movement will remain united despite the multiplicity of lists on its behalf."

Aside from the two Fatah lists, 10 other parties have filed slates for the parliamentary elections, including Hamas; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; one headed by Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, who ran against Abbas for the PA leadership; one headed by former finance minister Salam Fayad; and a joint list of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Communist Party. The deadline for submitting a list to the CEC was midnight on Wednesday.

Also yesterday, PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia resigned his post to run for reelection to parliament. His job will be filled until the elections by his deputy, Nabil Sha'ath.