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In isolation, Gazans dismiss Bush's new push for peace

The strip's Islamist leaders have called for protests Wednesday against Bush's first trip to Israel and the West Bank.

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Hamas, which says it is not firing rockets of its own, has refused to take action to stop the shootings, most of which have been claimed by the Islamic Jihad organization. Last week, a rocket landed near the Israeli town of Askhelon, about nine miles from the Gaza border, the farthest any rocket has yet reached. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called that attack an "escalation" and promised a strong Israeli reaction. That rocket caused no casualties.

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While the economic suffering here has been real, Hamas appears more entrenched than ever, with soldiers and police loyal to it deployed at most major intersections and many Fatah activists living in hiding. Hamas officials say they've taken the threat of a possible major Israeli assault on the territory seriously and have stockpiled explosives and rockets in preparation.

"If they come in, we'll suffer, but we'll make sure the Israelis suffer a lot, as well," says a senior commander in the Qassam Brigades, a military wing of Hamas. "We've prepared the ground against a major assault."

And many Gazans argue that it doesn't look as if Fatah's growing relationship with Israel – Fatah recognizes the right of the Jewish state to exist; Hamas does not – has yielded major dividends for the West Bank.

"I don't know how secure the people in Nablus feel," says Mr. Salam, referring to a four-day sweep by the Israeli military of that West Bank town that ended Sunday and had confined the town's residents to their homes and, according to a Fatah official, left 40 Palestinians wounded. "That sort of thing isn't happening around me."

On Tuesday, Abbas and Mr. Olmert met in Jerusalem to talk about the outlines for peace talks and were expected to discuss the dismantling of dozens of illegal Israeli settlement outposts in the West Bank, an issue that Bush is expected to discuss with both sides.

Mohammed Effan, who says his small business importing electric appliances has been "crippled" by the Israeli embargo, describes Bush's visit as a "sideshow."

"Do I or anyone I'm friends with expect a positive outcome from this visit? Of course not," he says. "I would support an end to rocket attacks, since they just seem to cause the Israelis to increase our suffering, but I think the status quo serves Israelis' and Hamas's interests: Israel can justify its tough approach, while the reaction in Gaza makes Hamas more popular in some people's eyes as a resistance organization."

He points out that Israel's responses generally cause more casualties here than the rocket fire in Israel. In all of last year, about 15 Israelis were killed in strikes from Gaza.

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