Palestinian leadership hit by political earthquake
CNN reporting: Hamas supporters raise their flag over Palestinian parliament, rush into building.
Palestinian PM says government will quit after Hamas win
Israeli PM: 'Will not negotiate' with those who won't fight terrorism
RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- In a stunning development ahead of official election results, Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei said Thursday he and others in the Palestinian Authority government will resign in the wake of Hamas' apparent parliamentary victory.
The announcement followed estimates from Wednesday's election that said Hamas had won a majority of seats in the 132-seat Palestinian Legislative Council, supplanting the ruling Fatah party.
Qorei's office said it will be up to Hamas to form a new government.
"It's the choice of the people and it should be respected," Qorei said. "I think, if the majority is approved and has been reached, I think Hamas should form a new government, it's true. The president should ask Hamas to form a new government.
"For me personally, I sent my resignation to the president to enable him to choose a new prime minister," Qorei said.
Initial election results are scheduled to be released Thursday at 7 p.m. (noon ET).
Exit polls earlier had shown Hamas thrusting itself into the center of Palestinian politics but had not indicated an outright majority win by the group.
The exit poll from Bir Zeit University, a respected Palestinian school, showed Fatah garnered 46.4 percent of the vote and Hamas won 39.8 percent in the Palestinian Legislative Council. That translates into 63 seats for Fatah and 58 for Hamas, according to the exit poll.
But other polls showed Hamas earning a slim majority, a claim echoed by some Hamas officials, prompting a warning from Israel.
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel could not accept a situation in which Hamas in its current configuration -- committed to the destruction of Israel -- was a part of the Palestinian Authority.
"I will not negotiate with a government that does not meet its most basic obligations -- to fight terrorism. We are prepared to assist the Palestinians and [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] very much but they must meet their commitments," Olmert said, according to a statement released by his office.
The European Union, meanwhile, said it was prepared to work with any government -- to a point.
"We are prepared to work with any Palestinian government, if this government seeks peace, using peaceful means," said Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU external relations commissioner.
Hamas, which boycotted the last election in 1996, capitalized on widespread dissatisfaction with what is seen as corruption within the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, and a perceived inability by the authority to manage the affairs of the Palestinians.
Fatah was formed in 1965 by longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died in November 2004, and dominated Palestinian politics for decades as the mainstream Palestinian nationalist movement.
"Mostly, they were voting for opposition and voting against Fatah -- against corruption, against nepotism, against the failure of the peace process, and against the lack of leadership," said Mustafa Barghouti with the Palestinian National Initiative, a democratic opposition movement.
He said Wednesday "was a great day for Palestine. This is the best democratic practice ever in the Arab world." (Watch Gaza residents talk about why election day is so important -- 2:32)
Hamas has called for the destruction of Israel. The group's military wing, Izzedine al Qassam, has admitted responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians as well as attacks against the Israeli military. The group is listed as a terrorist group by Israel and the U.S. State Department.
Turnout near 78 percent
Election officials estimated about 77.7 percent of the eligible 1.3 million voters turned out to cast their ballots at more than 1,000 polling stations. Voting closed around 7 p.m. (noon ET) in Gaza and the West Bank, and it was extended in predominantly Arab east Jerusalem for two hours to accommodate heavy turnout. (Watch how preliminary results divide up seats -- 3:05)
Among those who joined the voters were Abbas and Mahmoud Zahar, the leader of Hamas. Militant Palestinian groups had agreed to a cease-fire during the voting, and there were no reports of major violence.
"We are embarking on a new era, and we call on the international community to help us return to the negotiating table with the Israelis, to conclude a peace agreement and implement it," Abbas said at the end of the election.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa told CNN: "It's a happy day. There is no doubt about that. And I think that the Palestinian people are generally happy because of this." (Read how the vote demonstrates Palestinians' will to flex their political muscle)
Flag waving and anger
At polling sites in Gaza, many voters jubilantly waved the green flag of Hamas and expressed anger at Fatah.
"Fatah hasn't done anything for us, for our children," said one Hamas voter at a polling site in Gaza.
Another said: "Fatah only helps itself. We want to see what Hamas can do for us."
The results of the election were being closely monitored by the United States and European Union, both of which have threatened to cut aid if Hamas becomes part of the government.
The U.S. State Department was blunt.
"We view Hamas as a terrorist organization. We don't deal with Hamas. And under the current circumstances, I don't see that changing," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Impact on the peace process?
There have been talks about a power-sharing coalition, in which Fatah maintains the more political posts and Hamas has lower-level ministry positions.
Asked how Palestinians could move forward with peacemaking with Israel, al-Kidwa told CNN, "Maybe this is one of the reasons why we prefer not to have it in the government at this stage."
He added: "We have to maintain making peace with Israel as a priority. Actually, this is in our interest, in the interests of the Palestinian people. We need to reach final settlement with Israelis."