Provisional results show the Islamic militant group Hamas has won a landslide victory in yesterday's Palestinian general election.

The vote count gives Hamas 76 seats in the 132-member  parliament, defeating President Mahmoud Abbas's long-dominant Fatah party which won 43 seats.

Mr Abbas is to invite Hamas to form the next Palestinian government following early results. Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei has meanwhile announced his resignation which was accepted by Mr Abbas.

Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the European Union, the United States and Israel, was standing in elections for the first time.

An exit poll carried out by Bir Zeit university in Ramallah would have given Fatah a slim majority over the Islamic group Hamas, just four seats in a 132-seat assembly - and therefore reliant on a coalition with several small parties to retain power.

However, the poll may have been wide of the mark given the complexity of the voting system, secrecy in relation to support for Hamas and the size of the sample.

The commission says that the turnout was 72% of the 1.35 million registered voters.

Only in east Jerusalem was there a relatively low poll, due mainly to restrictions imposed by Israel. It was highest in Gaza where support for Hamas is strongest.

Describing the result as a wake up call for the Palestinian leadership, US President George W Bush said the US would not deal with Hamas unless it renounced its call to destroy Israel.

Supporters clash in Ramallah

Meanwhile, activists from Hamas and Fatah have clashed at the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.

Reports said the trouble started after Hamas members hoisted the green flag of the Islamic militant group at the entrance to the building, and Fatah supporters tried to tear it down.

Shots were fired and some injuries were reported. Police restored order after about ten minutes.

Palestinian girl shot dead

Israeli soldiers shot dead a nine-year-old Palestinian girl in the Gaza Strip near the border with Israel tonight, Palestinian medics said.

The Israeli army said troops spotted a Palestinian carrying a large bag near the border fence.

After the person did not heed calls to stop while troops fired warning shots in the air, the soldiers shot the Palestinian, an army statement said. 

Reaction from Minister Ahern

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, has said that Hamas must move to renounce violence and recognise the right of Israel to exist in peace and security.