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Hamas bends to pressure in Gaza and abroad

Its support base dropped to 19 percent after the war; many blame the Hamas-Fatah standoff for their plight. Egypt hosts the rivals for a final round of reconciliation talks July 25.

By Rafael D. FrankelCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 7, 2009

Children march in Gaza City Tuesday with Palestinian flags during a Hamas protest calling for an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on the territory after the Islamic militant Hamas seized power in 2007.

Hatem Moussa/AP

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Gaza City, Gaza

By one calculus of Middle Eastern politics, Israel could say that its month-long offensive against Hamas and heightened economic blockade of Gaza have succeeded.

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Rockets no longer fly into Israel from the Gaza Strip. And Gaza's Islamist rulers saw their support base drop below 20 percent as a direct result of a war that exacted a high price: 1,400 dead, 50,000 homes destroyed or damaged, and 1.5 million of Israel's neighbors more embittered than ever. 

The question now: Will Gaza's battering lay the groundwork for reincorporating the territory and its leaders into a revived peace process? Or will it prolong Gaza's isolation?

Hamas remains the unchallenged ruler here, two years after ousting Fatah after a violent conflict. But there is evidence that grumbling among its constituents and external pressures are bending what was once an uncompromising stance toward Israel by the Islamic Resistance Movement, as Hamas is formally known. 

Not only is Hamas refraining from attacking Israel, it is also preventing smaller militant factions from engaging in militant acts.

Hamas spokesman: 'We have disappointed our people'

A June 29 poll indicated that support for Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank fell precipitously to 18.8 percent following the war. Though it has eliminated its internal opponents and does not permit antigovernment demonstrations, Hamas is not immune to those sentiments. 

"Both Fatah and Hamas have disappointed our people," says Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef. "Until now we couldn't reconcile our rift and end the divide between the West Bank and Gaza. [We are] giving the Israelis all kinds of justification to continue confiscating land in the West Bank."  

Gaza's short-term fate may well depend on the ongoing reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo. Egypt has extended the deadline for a deal to July 28, inviting the two parties to reconvene for a seventh round of talks on July 25.

Under the accord being formulated, a committee made up of all the Palestinian factions would set policy for the Gaza Strip until elections were held for the Palestinian presidency and legislative council next year.  

Unresolved for now is the role of Hamas's security forces and whom they would report to under such a scenario.

But according to Mr. Yousef, under no circumstances will Hamas disband its Qassam brigades, the 16,000-man force which acts as Hamas's army.  

"Al-Qassam will be a resistance force that has nothing to do with people's daily lives," Yousef says. "It will be like Hezbollah in Lebanon. They will not be visible, but they will be there." 

Impact of US, Iranian dynamics

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