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Hamas has gained from border breach, analysts say

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Hamas’s breach of a Gaza-Egypt border wall that has enabled besieged Gazans to break through Israel’s blockade of the coastal enclave has boosted the Islamist group’s popularity, Palestinian analysts say.

Tens of thousands of Gazans flooded through the destroyed metal border wall into nearby Egyptian towns for a shopping spree after Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip and briefly halted food and fuel deliveries.

Analysts say any future arrangements for the Gaza-Egypt border would have to include Hamas, which routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces and seized control of the coastal territory in June.

The Rafah border terminal, once Gaza’s main avenue to the outside world, has been largely closed since Hamas took control there, forcing the departure of European monitors and Abbas’s presidential guards, who oversaw through traffic.

Palestinian columnist Samih Shabib wrote in the pro-Fatah al-Ayyam daily that the reopening of the Rafah terminal “will be impossible to accomplish without the participation of all concerned parties, including Hamas.”

Analysts believe the fall of the Rafah border wall also punched a hole in the U.S.-backed campaign to reduce Hamas’s influence and strengthen Abbas.

Hamas had accused Abbas’s government of colluding with Israel’s Gaza blockade so that residents would rise up against Hamas’s rule. Abbas’s government denies the accusation.

Israel said it tightened its Gaza blockade last week in an effort to counter cross-border rocket fire. Fuel and aid supplies were partially restored after an international outcry.

“After the breaching of the border, we won’t be hearing about a ‘suffocating siege’ on Gaza, because when the people’s stomachs are empty, they will do it again,” said Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri.

“The Palestinian Authority will not be able to resume its control of the Gaza crossing without Hamas’s consent. Hamas’s bargaining position has become stronger,” Masri added.

Abbas and the government he appointed in the West Bank where his Fatah faction holds sway has repeatedly said it is ready to resume control of the Gaza crossings with Israel and Egypt in order to “ease the suffering of our people in Gaza.”

Palestinians say Abbas’s proposal has been welcomed by Europe and is still awaiting an Israeli response. Hamas has said it is ready to discuss this.

A senior Fatah official who declined to be named said Hamas had taken “a clever step” by breaching the border, adding the question was what would they do next.

But Ali Jarbawi, another Palestinian political analyst, said: “There are two practical options, but neither are likely to happen: The crossing will remain open the way it is now, in chaos, or Egypt coordinates arrangements at the Rafah crossing with Hamas.”

Jarbawi added: “It is true that the siege had resulted in this explosion but why is there a siege in the first place?

“Many believe that the reason is because Hamas is firing rockets and at the same time expects everything to be normal. But you have to be realistic, Israel and the international community will not accept such a scenario.”


The Fatah official echoed Abbas’s concerns that because Gaza is isolated from the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, Israel will exploit the border breach to split the territories so that it will be impossible to make political progress.

“You cannot have a Palestinian state in the West Bank and another state in Gaza,” Jarbawi said.

“There is a big question mark on Israel’s seriousness on the political track which started gathering pace after Annapolis,” the Fatah official said, referring to Palestinian-Israeli peace talks in the United States in November after a 7-year lull.

Jarbawi said the status quo of the West Bank and Gaza would “weaken the Palestinian position and the Palestinian cause would be in jeopardy.”

Hamas, which opposes peace deals with Israel, has insisted the border breach did not mean Gaza would be separated from the West Bank.

“Any attempt by Israel to create a special entity in Gaza or to separate Gaza from the West Bank are certainly rejected choices,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

Editing by Ori Lewis