abbas haniyeh 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
If elections were held today in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh would defeat Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to an opinion poll published on Monday.
The survey also showed that Hamas's popularity among Palestinians had increased in the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead.
The poll, which questioned more than 1,270 Palestinians, was conducted last weekend by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. It had a margin of error of 3 percent.
The previous poll, conducted last December, gave Hamas only a 28% popularity rating, while the current poll showed the movement's popularity had increased to 33%.
The pollsters did not offer any explanation as to why Abbas's popularity dropped from 48% last December to 45% in March.
Three months ago, Haniyeh received a 38% popularity rating, while this time he was given 47%.
On the other hand, the poll showed that if jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti were to run against Haniyeh, he would win by 61% to 34%.
The latest poll was released as Hamas and Fatah negotiators arrived in Cairo for talks aimed at ending their differences and forming a unity government.
The talks are being held under the auspices of the Egyptian government. Sources close to Hamas and Fatah said that representatives of Egypt's General Intelligence Service were expected to participate in the negotiations, which will last for 10 days.
The 16-member Fatah delegation is headed by former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei, while the Hamas team is led by Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the Hamas political bureau in Syria.
Hamas and Fatah have established five joint committees to resolve differences over the makeup of the new government, the reconstruction of the Palestinian security forces, reforms in the PLO and dialogue between the various Palestinian factions.
The new government's first task would be to raise the financial aid needed to rebuild the Gaza Strip.
It is not clear at this stage who would head such a government.
Hamas reiterated on Monday its fierce opposition to the appointment of outgoing PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad.
Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator and spokesman in the Gaza Strip, said Fayad, who submitted his resignation over the weekend, was "unacceptable" to the Palestinians because of his government's alleged participation in the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the firing of hundreds of non-Fatah civil servants, and the arrest of scores of Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
"Fayad is America's man in the region, and that's why the Palestinians don't want him," Masri said. "Fayad is not even accepted by Fatah, where he faces opposition by many of its leaders and members."
Masri added that Hamas had the right to name its own prime minister because the movement won the January 2006 parliamentary election. He did not reveal the identity of Hamas's preferred candidate, but said any candidate should be at least a supporter of Hamas.
Meanwhile, Hamas has launched a new Web site that's based in the West Bank and is seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to enhance its influence there.
A Hamas operative told The Jerusalem Post that the new site, omamah.org, would serve as an official Hamas mouthpiece and document human rights violations and arrests carried out by Abbas's security forces in the West Bank.
According to the official, this is the first time Hamas has launched a Web site in the West Bank, which is under PA and Israeli control.
The official further said that "for security reasons" he would not be able to reveal the exact location of the Web site's offices.