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Page last updated at 19:17 GMT, Saturday, 19 April 2008 20:17 UK

Peace talks fail to hearten Gazans

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military over the last six months, but it was the high number of civilian casualties in the Israeli army operations over the last week that so shocked people in Gaza. At the same time, Israeli and Palestinian leaders insist that peace talks are moving in the right direction.

Palestinian journalists at the funeral  in Gaza City for Fadel Shana, Reuters cameraman - 17/4/2008
Hundreds took part in the funeral procession for cameraman Fadel Shana

The picture of 23-year-old Fadel Shana adorns the latest "martyr posters" pasted on walls across the Gaza Strip.

But instead of a gun, like the many militants who have died, Fadel poses with his camera.

The final footage he recorded while working for the Reuters news agency shows an Israeli tank shell being launched several hundred metres away. Moments later, the picture flickers and goes black.

Gaza isolation

Fadel was one of 15 civilians who were killed in a single day, according to doctors.

They died in a series of attacks that were mainly focused on central Gaza - an angry Israeli reaction to the deaths of three of its soldiers in combat in the north of the territory.

Five Palestinian children and a farmer tending his fields were among the others who paid the price.

While Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the operation, he also said peace talks would continue and are on track.

Mahmoud Abbas (left) and Ehud Olmert - 7/4/2008
The Israeli and Palestinian leaders say peace talks are progressing

This optimism has been echoed by Israeli and American politicians.

In Gaza, there is little to show for the fact that negotiations have been going on for nearly five months.

Gazans were sceptical about the talks even before they were re-launched in November last year.

Then, many felt the process would be used as a tool to further isolate the Gaza Strip. Now, even more people seem convinced of that.

The Palestinian representatives in the negotiations with Israel come mainly from Mr Abbas's Fatah party.

Its rival, Hamas, has been excluded from the Ramallah-based government since the Islamist faction's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last June. Hamas retains firm control of Gaza though.

Fatah says that part of its plan to return to power in Gaza is to use the peace process to convince people that it is better to be rid of Hamas.

The idea, shared by Israel and much of the international community, is that negotiations help to improve living conditions in the West Bank.

However, as long as Hamas controls it, and refuses to recognise Israel explicitly or renounce violence, Gaza will be, to some extent, left behind.

Hamas escalation?

While progress is extremely slow, some things have improved in the West Bank, particularly in terms of money coming in.

In Gaza, there is little doubt that conditions have worsened since peace talks began.

As well as the military operations, the 1.4 million people living there (half of whom are estimated to be aged 15 or under), contend with strict Israeli sanctions.

A Palestinian woman in Gaza reacts after an Israeli air strike destroys a car, killing one person and wounding four according to Palestinian medics - 19/4/2008
People in Gaza have yet to see the fruits of Israeli-Palestinian talks

People, and goods, are difficult to get in and out of the territory.

Attacks on various border crossings by Palestinian militants suggest a concerted effort by Hamas to escalate the situation and provoke a reaction as a way to change the months-old status quo.

Two Israeli civilian workers were killed in one attack on Gaza's main fuel terminal.

Such acts are at odds with the words of the moderates in Hamas who are calling for a ceasefire with Israel.

There had been talk of an unofficial diplomacy channel through the Egyptians to try to achieve this, though it has come to nothing.

At the moment, in both Israel and among Hamas, it is not those calling for a ceasefire, but those calling for more violence and retaliation that are getting their way.

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