Archive for Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hamas grip on Gaza hardens

October 19, 2008

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— Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip is now virtually complete.

Since the summer, the Islamic militants have silenced and disarmed their remaining opponents, filled the bureaucracy with their supporters, and kept Gaza's economy afloat, even if just barely, despite a 16-month-old international embargo and border blockades by Israel and Egypt.

With nothing in sight to weaken Hamas' grip, the political split between Gaza and the West Bank - the two territories meant to make up a future Palestinian state - looks increasingly irreversible.

That conclusion was also reached by the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, in a September report describing Hamas' ascendancy, and the split is one of the main obstacles to U.S. efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

It weakens moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in the negotiations because he isn't seen as speaking for Gaza. Israel, Abbas and the international community don't want a deal that leaves out the 140-square mile Gaza Strip's and its 1.4 million Palestinians. And it's unlikely Israel would give up the West Bank as long as Hamas is in charge in Gaza.

Undisputed rule has also improved Hamas' leverage ahead of power-sharing talks with Abbas' Fatah movement in Cairo later this month.

Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas leader, said his movement is eager to reconcile with Abbas. "If there is no pressure from the United States and Israel (on Abbas), we can build a good national unity government," Yousef said.

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