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Gazans seek end to bitter split

Khadija Saqir in Gaza
Khadija Saqir beside her ruined house in Gaza

By Aleem Maqbool
BBC News, Gaza

Most Palestinians are desperate for results from talks between the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, in Cairo aimed at ending their bitter political split.

The division has torn apart Palestinian society.

That seems particularly true in Gaza, where the disagreements are even playing their part in hindering recovery after the conflict.

In al-Atatara, in northern Gaza, 57-year-old Khadija Saqir bursts into tears as she shows us the ruins of her home and garden.

They were destroyed by shelling during the Israeli offensive. The tanks came through this neighbourhood.

"This is where we used to sit as a family," she says quietly, between sobs, as she points to the remains of a room where part of a coffee table is visible among the debris.

"Our fruit trees used to stand there, but they are all gone."

Palestinians collect aid in Gaza

We are struggling even to get in the food, the medicine, the blankets, the clothes, just to keep people alive
John Ging
United Nations' relief mission
More than a month since the ceasefire, Khadija and her husband spend their days in a tent close by.

They have no idea where the help, or the hope, is going to come from.

Israel, and Egypt, are continuing to do what they have done for over a year and a half, by keeping Gaza's borders tightly controlled, allowing little more than a small amount of basic aid in.

I went to see John Ging, the head of the United Nations' relief mission here, to ask what construction materials had been permitted to enter Gaza to help rebuild the thousands of damaged homes.

The answer was unequivocal.

"Nothing. Zero. Not one bag of cement," he said. "We are struggling even to get in the food, the medicine, the blankets, the clothes, just to keep people alive.

"Donors have been very generous, and massive amounts of aid have reached other countries in the region, we just are not being allowed to get them in through the crossings."

Border crossings

But Mr Ging said it was not just the huge external political factors which were serving to prolong the suffering of Gazans in this way.

"Tragically, we have the internal divisions on the Palestinian side which are crippling and mean there is no immediate solution to open up the crossing points."

Israel regards Hamas, the faction running Gaza, as a terrorist organisation.

It will not deal with Hamas at the border crossings, and so for the most part, they remain shut.

It is also Israel's stated aim to put pressure on the Islamist faction through these tight restrictions.

A Palestinian man has his documents checked at a border crossing into Egypt
Border crossings between Gaza and Egypt are restricted
Egypt says it can only fully open its crossing with Gaza under the previous arrangements, where the Palestinian Authority (PA), not Hamas, manned the terminal.

So a possible solution is that Gaza's borders with both Israel and Egypt be operated by the PA, currently led by Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, and not Hamas.

However, that would need rare agreement between the two rival Palestinian factions.

Some in Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in early 2006, feel the party should not cede any power.

Many in Fatah feel Hamas' behaviour since winning those elections means they should give up much more than just control of the crossings.

Beside the rubble of her home, Khadija Saqir said she was desperate for the parties to set aside their differences and for her leaders to think more about the lives of people like her.

"It doesn't make sense that there is division among brothers, among families" she says.

"When the Israelis came they did not differentiate between Hamas and Fatah, we were all under fire.

"We need unity even to rebuild our house, even to open the borders," says Khadija. "I need them to come back united."

'Paralysing' life

Dr Raji Sourani, head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, says the Palestinian divisions continue to have a wider, deeper impact on Gaza.

For our survival as a people, as a cause, we have to have unity
Raji Sourani
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights

"The split is paralysing all aspects of life from A to Z; socially, procedurally, administratively, politically, there is no other way to rebuild Gaza but through unity."

Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank both say they're serious about reconciliation.

Dr Sourani says it is crucial that this time they mean it.

"For our survival as a people, as a cause, we have to have unity," he says.

"If there is any sense of responsibility among Palestinian leaders they should see this and act on it, or the people will reject them forever."

Analysts, like Raji Sourani, say Hamas and Fatah coming together is not just about the practicalities of being able to rebuild, but also about offering the people of Gaza hope. There is very little of that here now.

John Ging of the UN says that with every day that goes by without people being offered a way out of their misery, more trouble is being stored up for the future.

"This is not just about all those who have died or all that has been destroyed, this is having a profound impact on the mindsets of the people here," he says.

"They are looking to the international community, to Israel and yes, to their own leaders, to find whatever means to live up to their legal responsibilities and give people here the right of a dignified existence," Mr Ging says.

"Right now everyone is failing them, and that needs to change now. The window of opportunity to turn things around is closing very fast."

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