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Hamas proves powerful despite Israel's siege
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By blowing up fence walls at borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, Hamas surprised Israel and Western nations as the border incident and its fallout proved that the Islamic movement was still powerful and supported by Gazans despite Israel's harsh siege, Gaza-based analysts said.

On January 23, militants from Hamas' armed wing blew up border fence walls in the southern Gaza Strip, allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans to pour into border towns in Egypt and have a several-day buying spree.

The moment when border walls were torn down declared a sudden end to the years-long embargo and siege at the Gaza Strip imposed by Israel and its Western allies, including the United States and European nations, which blacklisted Hamas as a "terrorist organization".

Ahmed Yousef, political advisor of deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haneya, had repeatedly praised the action of destroying the fence of the borders, saying "it is a first step towards breaking the siege".

Hamas leaders wanted the borders between Gaza and Egypt to remain opened until a solution is found.

Yousef said that if the borders with Egypt are closed again without a solution, "half a million Gaza Palestinians would head next time to Israeli-Gaza borders."

Since January of 2006 when Hamas scored a surprising victory in the Palestinian legislative elections, an Israeli siege and an international embargo were imposed on the Palestinian territories, mainly on the Gaza Strip.

When Hamas decided to form a government in March 2006, major Western aid donors such as the US and the EU decided to freeze its monthly aids to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which left 170,000 civil servants without salaries.

In mid-June last year, after Hamas routed security forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and seized the Gaza Strip, Israel tightened siege against the coastal enclave by closing all Gaza crossings and only allowing fuels and basic food supplies into the enclave.

The Hamas-run Strip, home to nearly 1.5 million residents, heavily depends on outside aid inflow of almost everything, from basic foodstuffs to medicine.

Then last month, Israel decided to further tighten the siege and close all crossings leading to the strip.

Since then, Israel has been barring fuels and basic food products from reaching the Gaza Strip, in retaliation to ongoing makeshift rocket attacks carried out by Palestinian militants from Gaza against Israel.

Israel's tightened siege had been pushing situation in the poor and densely populated enclave to continue worsening, to a point that many outsiders warned a humanitarian crisis was around the corners.

But Hamas, which is sworn to Israel's destruction, weathered Israel’s harsh siege.

"The siege hasn't at all weakened Hamas movement as many outside believe. The siege has instead strengthened Hamas and increased its popularity, not only in the Palestinian territories, but also in the Arab and Islamic world," said Khaled el-Sawi, a Palestinian academic based in Gaza.

He explained that when the Gaza Strip was completely closed, "Hamas, which has a strong machine of media and propaganda, didn't even complain that the siege is hurting it. (Instead) Hamas received money from abroad and kept gaining worldwide popular support."

Hesham Abu Seido, another Gaza-based analyst, echoed el-Sawi's sentiments.

"The pressure on Hamas was useless. Hamas was able to survive as long as it had the money, the power and the authority in the Gaza Strip in addition to having a strong means of media," Abu Seido said.

He claimed that Hamas smuggled money and weapons through underground tunnels on the borders between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

"Hamas movement's media instruments are very powerful. Hamas planned in advance to destroy the fence of the borders with Egypt. But before destroying it, Hamas led a huge campaign of propaganda," said Abu Seido.

He added that the border breach by Hamas "had pushed everyone, including the Palestinian Authority and Egypt, to hurry up to find a way to solve the crisis."

(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2008)

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