Palestinian despair deepens over Gaza

Hamas may now rule Gaza, but for many ordinary Palestinians the bloody conclusion of this week’s factional fighting promises only more chaos.

Emergency measures imposed by President Mahmoud Abbas in an 11th-hour bid to bolster his secular Fatah against Hamas Islamists provided little consolation to Palestinians who fear that their dream of a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip may have been dashed for good.

”Whether we like it or not, there are two separate entities. Hamas has divided up the homeland,” said Ranya Mustafa, a 32-year-old employee at an NGO, referring to Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

”Had the president acted earlier, we might not have ended up in this situation,” said Ranya, who lives in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The two regions, which remained in Arab hands after Israel’s creation on most of British mandatory Palestine in 1948, are about 45km apart. But in the larger West Bank, Fatah still holds sway.

While Israel withdrew from the heavily populated Gaza Strip in 2005, its soldiers and settlers pepper the West Bank in what Palestinians see as further repudiation of the Western-backed Abbas’s authority.

”How come they want to implement emergency regulations while our land is still under Israeli occupation? It’s ironic,” said Mohammed Shareef (40) a Ramallah shopkeeper, referring to Abbas orders.

Conciliatory moves

Hamas has cast its Gaza takeover as a pre-emptive move against Fatah elements opposed to its political ascendancy. But facing ever-deeper isolation abroad, Hamas has made conciliatory moves toward Abbas.

”We tell Abu Mazen [Abbas] that we still recognise you as the president of the Palestinian people,” Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya told a rally in Gaza. ”We will never accept the separation of Gaza from the West Bank.”

The fact that Gaza fell with apparently little or no resistance from Fatah fighters who had received Western-sponsored training and arms raised questions about Abbas’s ability to hold out against further Hamas pressure.

”Can he impose a state of emergency in Gaza when his men could not even defend themselves? There will be no practical value to this,” said Khalida Jarrar, a lawmaker representing the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Abbas on Friday appointed his former finance minister in the unity government, Salam Fayyad, as head of an emergency Cabinet after he dismissed the Hamas-led government of Ismail Haniyeh.

Fayyad is a political independent whose clout among Western governments could help restore direct foreign aid — suspended after Hamas took power following its election victory last year — to the new administration.

”This will be a good step because money will start flowing and there will be regular salaries,” said Ahmad al-Khatib, a 35-year-old civil servant.

But other Palestinians said Abbas might have to confront Hamas, rather than continuing to circumvent it diplomatically.

”This situation needs a general, not someone like Fayyad,” said Khalid Ahmad, a 40-year-old taxi driver.

Western powers back Abbas

Meanwhile, the European Union joined Washington on Friday in declaring its support for Abbas as the legitimate leader of the Palestinians after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.

Russia called for calm and urged international mediators to help to avert civil war, while Egypt pulled its diplomats out of Gaza in protest at the Hamas takeover and Iran said the violence showed Palestinians had lost sight of their true enemy.

Foreign ministers of the quartet of international peace mediators — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — were due to hold a telephone conference on Friday to discuss the situation, a spokesperson for the European Commission said.

”We fully support President Abbas,” she added.

”We call on President Abbas, the legitimate president of all Palestinians, to [do] his utmost to resolve the situation through dialogue and to work towards national unity and reconciliation.”

The EU position mirrored that of Washington, which on Thursday endorsed Abbas’s decision to declare a state of emergency and vowed to stand behind Palestinian moderates.

”We fully support him in his [effort] to try and end this crisis for the Palestinian people,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington. — Reuters

An actual Black Friday deal

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