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Price of Hamas principles in Gaza

Gaza's Hamas-run police
Hamas seeks to project an image of security and normality in Gaza

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Gaza

Eight bearded policemen, in black fatigues and carrying AK-47s, leap on to an open-backed truck, which then hares off with much squealing of tyres.

The policemen have gone to set up a road block in Gaza City, walkie-talkies spluttering with messages about suspicious vehicles.

The message is clear: these are not militants firing rockets, or Islamists ordering women off motorbikes. Rather, on display are normal policemen on a normal beat, bringing order to the roads.

Crime has indeed fallen in Gaza. But life is still hard. War and Israeli-imposed shortages have seen to that.

Of course, Hamas is responsible here in Gaza. They have to start rebuilding
Mohammed Abed Rabbo

The top men in Hamas, men such as Bassam Naim, the health minister, are sensitive to the contrast of a better life in the West Bank - where Hamas's rivals, Fatah, are in power.

"Is the situation in the West Bank much better than the Gaza Strip?" he asks, rhetorically.

Despite the Palestinian Authority's "collaboration" with Israel, Dr Naim says, the results are "more settlements, more checkpoints, the wall is continuing. The situation is not much better, although it is not officially under siege."

Food distribution in Gaza
Gazans blame Israel for shortages, but they erode support for Hamas

He says that the Gazan people are willing to endure their privations for the sake of a leadership which holds true to its principles.

Those privations are plain to see.

On a bare patch of ground, near the Mediterranean shore, men are heaving sacks of flour from a truck to a horse-drawn cart.

Their faces are dusted white from the leaking contents. This is a United Nations operation: the sacks proclaim, in capitals, that they are a gift "from the people of Japan", and that they are not for sale. Most Gazans rely on food aid from the UN.

And while they blame Israel first for the shortages that result from the blockade, the latest opinion polls suggest that were a Palestinian election to be held, Hamas would lose out to Fatah - even in Gaza.

Broken pride

To the north of Gaza City, voice is given to that disaffection.

Mohammed Abed Rabbo stumbles, with his walking stick, across a small hillock of rubble.

Mohammed Abed Rabbo, with Tim Franks
Mr Abed Rabbo's house was in an area heavily-bombed by Israeli forces

Next to him, men are demolishing what is left of the shell of his house. It had been his pride: 14 members of his family had lived there, up to the point that the war intervened.

In the war against Palestinian militants in January, the Israeli army destroyed his home.

Only now are the ruins being cleared away. Mr Abed Rabbo, 55, and his wife share a rickety shed in the shadow of his former home. He is tired and fed up.

"Of course, Hamas is responsible here in Gaza," he says, his arms waving. "They have to start rebuilding. But they're the ones who are rejecting reconciliation with Fatah. This will cause us another hundred years of suffering. The whole Palestinian cause is in danger."

Ghazi Hamad
For Hamas, reconciliation is part of the national project
Gazi Hamad
Hamas

Hamas has, in recent weeks, been oozing political confidence: it has mocked the Palestinian Authority President, and leader of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, for shaking the hand of the Israeli Prime Minister and for flip-flopping over the UN report into the Gaza war.

But the sense among many Palestinians is that Hamas is still not keen to move quickly to elections - which are due in just three months' time.

Ghazi Hamad, one of Hamas's leading moderate voices, says though that Hamas is not - for that reason - stalling on an accord with Fatah which would help ease the way to elections.

Egypt has for months been attempting to broker a rapprochement, and even if no deal is reached, Mr Abbas says he will call elections this Sunday.

Ghazi Hamad insists that, for Hamas, reconciliation is "part of the national project". Hamas is simply holding out to ensure that this is not an agreement "which collapses after two or three days".

In the mean time, the scruffy streets of Gaza feel locked in their deprivation and airlessness.

The local Hamas leaders speak of absolute certainty in total victory. It is talk not shared on the street.



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