Is freedom near for captive Israeli soldier?
Hamas says that Gilad Shalit could be released in a week, but terms of a deal with Israel keep shifting.
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Mr. Abbas is concerned that a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas would aid the Islamist group in consolidating its hold over Gaza, as well as making inroads toward controlling the West Bank. Dissolving the PA, and returning to Israel total responsibility for the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, is perhaps the one trump card Abbas can still play in his negotiations with Israel as he is increasingly viewed by Palestinians as ineffectual.Skip to next paragraph
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But Abbas's poor standing has not translated into Hamas popularity gains in Gaza. Nearly two months after the cease-fire with Israel, little has improved in the lives of Gazans.
As part of the June 19 cease-fire agreement, Israel was to gradually ease its blockade of Gaza. But since then, the quantity of fuel, cement, food, and other raw materials has seen only a "marginal" increase, says Phillippe Lazzarini, the head of office for the United Nations agency that coordinates humanitarian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza.
"There is a growing frustration among the population because they cannot feel the dividend of the truce on their daily life," Mr. Lazzarini says. The one significant improvement, he added, was the security situation, as both sides were holding their fire for the most part.
Though fuel imports have increased, the amount of gasoline flowing into Gaza is only 18 percent the estimated need, according to the UN. The amount of diesel fuel available is 55 percent of the estimated need.
The fuel and material shortages in Gaza, along with the lack of access to the outside world, have contributed to the 45 percent unemployment rate reported by the UN for July – the highest in the world.
"Nothing has changed," says Eyad Jamal Roopa, who previously imported perfumes from Lebanon but is now unemployed. Mr. Roopa spends his days sitting with two friends in front of his closed shop in the al-Shati Refugee Camp on the northern Gaza coast. "We expected the crossings would be open, the siege would be lifted, and we would have a life. And none of that happened."
Israeli authorities say they were slow in ramping up deliveries of goods because rockets were still being fired from Gaza in the early days of the truce. "We chose closings as a nonviolent response to the violations of the quiet," says Mr. Regev.
The agreement reached with Hamas via Egypt outlined steps that Hamas continues to violate by smuggling "qualitative military materials" into Gaza from Egypt, he says.
Though primarily blaming Israel and the United States for the worst living conditions anyone can remember, Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas charge that the Islamist group has failed to deliver an improvement in their lives.
"There is no freedom to talk or to work because of the Hamas security forces," says Zuhir al-Najjar, a documentary filmmaker from Rafah. "If I say something [Hamas] doesn't like, it's a big problem for me.… Every day, every moment, Hamas gets stronger."