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Story Publication logo January 19, 2009

Gazans Weary of Hamas' Violent Policies


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Inside Gaza

Gazan healthcare facilities have been strangled by an Israeli blockade since June 2007, when Hamas...

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Ahmed Abu Arida, 41, was standing on the roof of his apartment building at 11:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve, watching Israeli jets pound the city around him.

"The explosions were very loud," Mr. Arida said, "but they seemed far away."

Then he heard screaming from the rooms below.

"Ahmed, Ahmed, Ahmed, I am here," he said, remembering the words of Iman Arida, 32, the mother of his seven children. "Those are the last words she ever spoke," he said.

A piece of shrapnel from an Israeli rocket pierced Mrs. Arida's brain as she lay sleeping with her 3-year-old son.

"She died in the last half-hour of the year," Mr. Arida said.

Mr. Arida's anger is directed both outside of Gaza and within.

A former military police officer, he supports Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah lost local elections to Hamas in 2006, and its loyalists were driven from the territory by Hamas gunmen in June 2007. Fatah maintains a strong following in southern Gaza, but Hamas domination has rendered the opposition's leaders politically impotent.

Fatah affiliates think that the war, which has left 1,200 Gazans dead and more than 5,000 wounded, will turn public opinion in the Gaza Strip against Hamas. Israel on Saturday announced a cease-fire in the offensive, which began on Dec. 27.

The military action came in response to rocket attacks from Hamas-affiliated militants, which killed eight Israelis last year. Hamas leaders say the rocket fire is an attempt to force Israel to open border passages to allow commercial goods into Gaza, ending an economic siege.

But many here say the promise of violent resistance is wearing thin.

Fatah hopes to regain control of Gaza after four disastrous years under Hamas, during which time the Israeli blockade has brought Gaza to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

Fatah supporters who spoke to The Washington Times on Saturday fell short of blaming Hamas for the Israeli onslaught -- but their disdain for the resistance movement was unanimous.

"The people here regret voting for Hamas," said Mahmoud Mohammed, a local Fatah chief. "Hamas has stolen Palestine and made it a project of Iran," he said, and "the education and health departments have gone from bad to worse."

"The resistance is going to destroy the people," he said.

Saleh Bably, Mr. Mohammed's predecessor, loosely quoted PLO leader Yasser Arafat to explain his disagreement with Hamas: "The gun without politics cannot bring peace." Mr. Bably and Mr. Mohammed think that the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, largely funded by Iran, creates massive instability in the region without offering any practical benefit. "The rockets are useless," Mr. Bably said.

Mr. Mohammed lamented the loss of European Union support after the Hamas takeover. The World Bank halted funds after Hamas decided to hire thousands of fighters to form paramilitary brigades in the Gaza Strip, and Israel responded to the Hamas victory by withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority, cutting its revenue in half.

"Hamas has made the whole world look to us as terrorists," Mr. Mohammed said.

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