Page last updated at 20:48 GMT, Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Gaza ruins pose questions for Hamas

By Quil Lawrence
BBC News, Gaza City

Man at a rally in Gaza City
Only party stalwarts turned out for a victory rally

Standing on a newly formed hillside of rubble in the destroyed Jabaliya refugee camp, five young men all claim to be resistance fighters.

"All of Gaza are mujahideen," they said.

But when asked which of them had actually fired a gun in the three week-long battle with Israel, none gave a convincing answer.

And as armed Hamas policemen return to Gaza's street-corners and traffic-lights, many in Gaza are wondering where they were when it came to fighting the Israeli Army.

Hamas still has enough power and influence here that few will criticise the Islamist movement openly.

But when Hamas called for a rally to celebrate what it has been calling a historic victory over the Israelis, the citizens of Gaza voted with their feet - they stayed at home.

In the past Hamas could easily call tens of thousands into the streets, but this time only party stalwarts could look around the devastation and believe this could be victory.

"I think the resistance is strong," said Beithar Ajar, 26, who described himself as a Hamas legal adviser.

"I think the Israeli army is very weak. Very weak."

Sober appraisal

A truck with loudspeakers made a turn around Palestine Square in central Gaza city, playing Hamas battle songs.

A barker standing on the back shouted insults to Israel's government on a microphone.

But relatively few green flags unfurled in the crowd.

More than 1,300 Palestinians killed
Thirteen Israelis killed
More than 4,000 buildings destroyed in Gaza, more than 20,000 severely damaged
50,000 Gazans homeless and 400,000 without running water

The march ended in front of the concrete skeleton of the Palestinian Legislative Council building - pulverised by Israeli bombs during the first days of the air assault.

"It's not a problem for us," said Ajar, as a loudspeaker played recordings of machine guns and explosions dubbed over a fiery speech.

"We will overcome the Israeli Army this time and every time in the future," he said.

Hamas supporters claim that many more Israelis died in the three weeks of the war than Israel's official count of only 13 dead.

Likewise they believe the official Hamas announcement that Israel killed only 48 fighters among over 1,300 dead in Gaza.

But that raises another question: if so few Hamas fighters died, were they really out there fighting?

A man settling in to sleep next to the remnants of his home gave a more sober appraisal.

Yusef, a farmer from Jabaliya, was burning old kitchen cupboards to keep himself warm, as nightfall brought the winter's cold.

Israeli bombs destroyed his house, he said, but they were not the only ones to blame.

"I blame Israel and Hamas both," he said. "I just want to live."

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