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In pummeled Gaza, Hamas recoups

Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Cairo Sunday in a bid to bolster the current cease-fire.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 26, 2009

Gone: On Saturday, a monitor from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights helped a Palestinian family document the destruction of their home in northern Gaza. Hundreds of thousands need assistance.

Kevin Frayer/AP

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Western and many Arab powers have tried to marginalize Hamas for its militancy, its fundamentalism, and its denial of Israel's right to exist. But Hamas's 22-day pummeling by Israel leaves it limping yet still standing – and therefore an organization to be reckoned with.

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Hamas is banking on a new US administration and the fact that any cease-fire deal, international rebuilding, or humanitarian relief effort will have to include Hamas.

From where Ahmed Yousef sits, in the garden of a beautiful villa that escaped the Israeli pounding, Hamas might be better positioned than ever before. Outside the sprawling home, Dr. Yousef, a foreign-relations adviser to the Hamas government, is receiving international visitors. New green Hamas flags hang along the road meridians. Uniformed Hamas policemen are back on the street at major intersections. Ministers in the Hamas government, dozens of staffers in tow, tour the ruins of neighborhoods flattened by the Israeli military campaign – handing out cash and vowing to take charge of the rebuilding.

In a quick start to efforts by President Barack Obama's new administration to shore up a shaky Gaza truce and revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, his envoy, former US Sen. George Mitchell, is expected in Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday. His agenda, to date, does not include a meeting with Hamas .

But a week into the cease-fire, international leaders such as French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who said "no" to dealing with Hamas, now seem to be saying "maybe."

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are in need of assistance and the international community is keen to get it to them. It appears that the donors might need Hamas to help reverse the state of destruction and suffering across Gaza. Add to this a new US president who has expressed an openness to talking with controversial world figures seen as America's foes, and Hamas foresees the possibility of a shift in how it is received.

"The Americans and Europeans were mistaken to boycott Hamas from the start," says Yousef, who lived for many years in the US. While he sees the potential for an Obama administration opening, he says that he was disappointed by what he heard in President Obama's speech last week.

"I expected Obama to say that he will go and talk to everybody," Yousef says. "We'd like to see America as impartial, not just seeing Hamas as a terrorist group." He charged that the US, as the world's foremost salesman of democracy, was still refusing to recognize the results of the January 2006 parliamentary elections that brought Hamas to power.

"The people chose Hamas, and America and the rest of the world should respect that," he says.