Ha­mas marks 10 years in power

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY KARIN LAUB AND FARES AKRAM

BEIT LAHIYA, GAZA STRIP | Grim records mark the 10th an­niver­sary of Ha­mas rule in Gaza — the long­est-ever daily elec­tric­ity and wa­ter cuts, 60 per­cent youth un­em­ploy­ment, and a ris­ing back­log of thou­sands wait­ing for a rare chance to exit the block­aded ter­ri­tory.

Un­able to of­fer a rem­edy, the Is­lamic mil­i­tant group has been dou­bling down on op­pres­sion. It has jailed the few who dare com­plain pub­licly, in­clud­ing the young or­ga­niz­ers of a street protest against power cuts and an au­thor who wrote on Face­book that “life is only pleas­ant for Ha­mas lead­ers.”

Polls show al­most half the peo­ple would leave al­to­gether if they could, but that sup­port for the group, de­spite three short, dev­as­tat­ing wars with Is­rael, is steady at around a third. With po­ten­tial op­po­nents crushed, there is no ob­vi­ous path to regime change.

Mean­while, for most of Gaza’s 2 mil­lion peo­ple, life is al­most cer­tain to get worse.

The in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion of Ha­mas, which re­fuses to rec­og­nize Is­rael, will likely con­tinue — and with it the bor­der block­ade im­posed by Is­rael and Egypt af­ter the group seized Gaza in June 2007.

A new po­lit­i­cal pro­gram that Ha­mas hoped would mol­lify the West and Arab na­tions in­stead un­der­scored its ide­o­log­i­cal rigid­ity; while softer in tone, the man­i­festo reaf­firms a call to armed strug­gle and the cre­ation of an Is­lamic state in his­toric Pales­tine, in­clud­ing what is now Is­rael.

There are also signs that one of Ha­mas’ re­main­ing for­eign back­ers, Qatar, is in trou­ble. On Mon­day, four Arab coun­tries cut ties with the Gulf na­tion, in part over its sup­port of Is­lamist groups, such as Ha­mas. Qatar re­port­edly asked sev­eral Ha­mas lead­ers-in-ex­ile to leave.

Ha­mas also faces fi­nan­cial pres­sure by Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Abbas, whose forces it drove from Gaza a decade ago. Fed up with failed rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts, the West Bank-based Mr. Abbas has warned he would cut more Gaza sub­si­dies, such as elec­tric­ity pay­ments.

Ha­mas spokesman Salah Bar­daweel dis­missed sug­ges­tions Ha­mas should step aside, but ac­knowl­edged a deal to im­prove Gaza’s lot is un­likely as long as the 82-year-old Mr. Abbas, who runs au­ton­o­mous en­claves in the Is­rae­lioc­cu­pied West Bank, re­mains in power.

He said Ha­mas was never given a chance to gov­ern. “How do you hold some­one ac­count­able for a fail­ure he did not cre­ate?” he said, re­fer­ring to the block­ade. Mr. Bar­daweel was re­cently skew­ered on so­cial me­dia af­ter as­sert­ing Gaza will re­main “stead­fast.”

Lo­cal writer Ab­dul­lah Abu Sharekh landed in jail af­ter writ­ing on Face­book that “peo­ple are not stead­fast.”

“They can­not do any­thing be­cause [Ha­mas] rules Gaza with iron and fire. ... You brought Gaza back to the Mid­dle Ages,” he wrote.

Ac­tivist Mo­hammed al-Taluli, 25, said pres­sure built again sev­eral weeks ago as daily rolling power cuts wors­ened, with four hours of elec­tric­ity fol­lowed by out­ages of 14 to 18 hours. Mr. al-Taluli said he and his friends re­ceived death threats to de­ter them from protest­ing, and that it was ef­fec­tive be­cause no one can pro­tect them from Ha­mas.

“Peo­ple are ask­ing us ev­ery day if we are plan­ning a new demon­stra­tion,” Mr. al-Taluli said, speak­ing in a room dec­o­rated with pho­tos of revo­lu­tion­ary idols like Che Gue­vara. “But ... we are afraid.”

Pales­tinian rights groups say Ha­mas prac­tices mir­ror those of its West Bank ri­vals. Both gov­ern­ments have car­ried out ar­bi­trary ar­rests and mis­treated de­tainees, and both mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia and civil so­ci­ety to si­lence dis­sent. Over the past decade, Ha­mas has also ex­e­cuted 28 peo­ple, most of them al­leged in­form­ers, af­ter tri­als widely con­demned as a sham. This in­cludes three men ex­e­cuted last month, af­ter a field tri­bunal tried them in less than a week.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Grim records mark the 10th an­niver­sary of Ha­mas rule in Gaza, in­clud­ing: the longestever daily elec­tric­ity cuts. Thou­sands are wait­ing to leave the block­aded ter­ri­tory.

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