GAZA (Reuters) - Watching Hamas gunmen celebrating their capture of a key security compound on Thursday, Palestinians in the Gaza battle zone voiced fears of deepening economic hardship in a territory run by the Islamist group.
“I think Gaza will be sealed off and isolated from the rest of the world. We have been suffering and now will suffer more,” said Gaza City resident Hussam Ahmed, 36.
The Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million inhabitants are no strangers to poverty. But their economic plight has worsened under Western sanctions and frequent Israeli closings of a border commercial crossing since Hamas came to power in an election last year.
Calling a Hamas-controlled Gaza a “dangerous entity”, Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defence official, said the territory should be denied foreign monetary aid so it “cannot stand on its feet”.
Israel lets in food and other humanitarian aid but, in common with Western powers, has tried to choke Hamas and favors the secular Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose power base is the bigger and wealthier West Bank.
A Hamas supporter in Gaza, who gave his name only as Ali, said he was not frightened by the prospect of more hardship.
“What else could happen to us? The world has never recognized Hamas, anyway, and has imposed sanctions,” he said.
“Gaza is going to become a safer place for Muslims after the defeat of the collaborators. Threats don’t scare us.”
Western donors cut off direct aid to the Palestinian Authority in March 2006 after Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist or to renounce violence, defeated Fatah in a parliamentary election.
But the European Union has increased humanitarian aid and remains the largest donor to the Palestinians, paying subsistence allowances to 150,000 families in both territories.
Describing the Hamas-Fatah fighting as “suicidal”, the EU’s top aid official said the European Commission had suspended its aid in Gaza until violence stopped.
Last year, the European Union executive provided 84 million euros ($111.7 million) of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territories and 60 million euros have been earmarked so far for this year.
An Israeli official said that in a new reality of “two separately managed Palestinian territories”, Israel has to decide whether to allow limited contacts with Hamas and enable key Gaza border crossings closed during the fighting, including a main commercial terminal, to reopen.
Menachem Klein, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said Israel could not afford to let Gaza “boil from within”.
“Israel will also suffer from the boiling water in there,” he said.
Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but still controls the territory’s borders under interim peace deals with the Palestinians.
Hamas and other militant groups have frequently fired rockets from Gaza at southern Israel, attacks the Israeli military has been unable to end through air strikes and limited ground operations.
Khamees al-Degger, 40, watched along with hundreds of others who rushed to the captured Gaza security compound as Hamas gunmen hugged each other and handed out pastries to onlookers.
“A new Taliban state is being shaped in Gaza,” he said.
“Hamas may find only one or two states in the world ready to deal with it.”
Hamas has allies in Iran and Syria.
Standing outside his Gaza home, an elderly Palestinian said Israel was the real power in the conflict. He spoke as the sound of Israeli helicopters, on an apparent reconnaissance mission, clattered over the nearby security compound.
“It is a game between Hamas, Fatah and Israel,” the man said. “The cat eats the rat, and the dog eats the cat that ate the rat.”
Additional reporting by Avida Landau and Adam Entous in Jerusalem
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