RAMALLAH, West Bank—Hamas won a huge majority in parliamentary elections as Palestinian voters rejected the longtime rule of the Fatah Party, throwing the future of Mideast peacemaking into question, officials from both major parties said Thursday.
Palestinian leaders huddled to determine what role the Islamic militant group will play in governing the territories.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will ask Hamas to form the next government, with his defeated Fatah Party weighing whether to form a partnership or serve in the opposition.
A Hamas government, without Fatah as a moderating force, would greatly complicate Abbas' efforts to restart peace talks. The Islamic militants, who carried out dozens of suicide bombings and seek Israel's destruction, have said they oppose peace talks and will not disarm. Israel and the United States refuse to deal with Hamas.
The top Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal told Abbas his group is ready for a political partnership, Hamas said.
Fatah legislator Saeb Erekat said the party does not want to join a Hamas government. "We will be a loyal opposition and rebuild the party," Erekat said, after meeting with Abbas.
But Nabil Shaath, another senior Fatah lawmaker, said the party's leadership would make a decision later in the day.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Abbas to praise Palestinian democracy and say the United States supports him and his policies, his office said.
"She asserted to him that U.S. administration will continue supporting the elected president and his policies," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Abbas aide.
Abbas was elected separately a year ago and remains president. However, the Palestinian leader has said he would resign if he could no longer pursue his peace agenda. The Cabinet and legislature must approve any major initiative by Abbas, giving Hamas tremendous influence over peace moves.
Aides said he planned a major speech Thursday night, after final results are announced by the Central Election Commission.
Acknowledging the Hamas victory, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and his Cabinet ministers resigned Thursday -- hours before official results were released.
"This is the choice of the people. It should be respected," Qureia said. "If it's true, then the president should ask Hamas to form a new government." The Cabinet remained in office in a caretaker capacity.
International observers, led by former President Carter, said the elections were "well administered."
Hamas supporters streamed into the streets to celebrate victory. In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Hamas loyalists shot in the air and handed out candy. Others honked horns and waved Hamas flags from car windows.
Israeli officials declined comment, but senior security officials gathered Thursday to discuss the results. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert scheduled talks with senior officials later in the day.
Olmert said Wednesday, before Hamas claimed victory, that Israel cannot trust a Palestinian leadership in which the Islamic group has a role.
"Israel can't accept a situation in which Hamas, in its present form as a terror group calling for the destruction of Israel, will be part of the Palestinian Authority without disarming," Olmert said in a statement issued by his office.
President Bush told The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that the United States will not deal with Hamas until it renounces its position calling for the destruction of Israel.