US envoy's visit could ease Gaza blockade
Forced to rebuild using mud and animal-drawn carts, Gazans are increasingly frustrated with Hamas's hard-line policies.
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But five rounds of Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks in Cairo over the past four months have failed to produce an agreement that would pave the way for a Palestinian unity government. A recent spate of clashes between PA security forces and members of Hamas's military wing that left eight dead in the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya is likely to make a Hamas-Fatah accord even more elusive.Skip to next paragraph
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And while the parties squabble, Hamas's popularity appears to be dropping.
According to a poll conducted by the West Bank-based Bir Zeit University in May, just 23 percent of Palestinians in Gaza would vote for Hamas in a new parliamentary election, as opposed to the 37 percent who said they would opt for the Abbas-led Fatah movement. Nearly two-thirds of Palestinians in both territories believe a Hamas victory in future elections would lead to a tightening of the blockade, says another survey published by the Palestinian Center for Survey and Policy Research (PCSR).
"It is not simply their duty to stay in power because they were elected, but to protect the interests of the Palestinian people," he says. "And that doesn't mean shooting rockets, but making sure we live decent lives."
Ahmed Yusuf, adviser to deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, says he agrees that Palestinian unity needs to move forward in order to improve the daily lives of Gazans, but dismisses reports his Islamist movement is losing support among the local population.
"The division between the West Bank and Gaza certainly deteriorates the situation. It's our obligation, here and in Ramallah, to unify the people, reconcile our rift, and create a transitional government to prepare for the next election," says Mr. Yusuf.
"Yes, there is suffering in Gaza because of the lack of many things we used to enjoy. But people here are benefiting from a type of security they did not have before," he says. "For that reason they will stand behind us no matter what kind of hardship they are facing."
'The people will explode'
But aid agencies say the Israeli blockade is pushing the territory deeper into despair, particularly in the wake of Israel's three-week military offensive that destroyed thousands of homes and much of the Gaza Strip's infrastructure in January.
Food security is on the decline, reconstruction is stalled, and international organizations continue to face difficulties in their efforts to bring much-needed aid to Gaza.
A June 4 report from the Organization for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a UN disaster relief body working in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, says everything from wheelchairs, dry food items, and crayons, to stationary, soccer balls, and musical instruments is currently being stopped at the border without explanation.
Palestinian medical patients seeking specialized treatment in Egypt or Israel are now barred from exiting Gaza, after a Hamas-Fatah power struggle at the territory's health ministry in March prompted the PA-led government in the West Bank to refuse to approve medical referrals for patients abroad.
Ibrahim, a Gaza resident and university graduate, says if the situation does not change soon, Hamas is one day going to find itself the target of the anger and frustration beginning to build now among Gaza's population.
"As Palestinians, we can handle pressure. But we can't live like this forever," Ibrahim says. "If it continues like this, it will explode. The people will explode against the government, because we have nowhere else to turn."