Hamas Seeks Firmer Grip on Gaza Strip

The militant Palestinian faction Hamas is seeking to shore up its control over the Gaza Strip by arresting scores of activists belonging to the rival Fatah organization. The arrests come after a rally Monday in Gaza City by more than 200,000 Fatah supporters.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

In this part of the program, the divide gets deeper between the two factions who would control the Palestinians. In a moment, how Fatah hopes to maintain control over the West Bank with the help of a new training school for its security officers.

First, how Fatah's political rival - the more militant Hamas - is moving to shore up its control over the Gaza Strip. It's arrested hundreds of Fatah supporters - this in the wake of a massive Fatah rally where 200,000 showed up to mark the third anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The rally ended in mayhem and gunfire that left seven people dead. It was the largest and most violent demonstrations since Hamas took control of Gaza last summer.

We go now to NPR producer Ahmed Abu Hamda in Gaza City. Hello.

AHMED ABU HAMDA: Hi.

MONTAGNE: What is the situation there in Gaza today?

HAMDA: Well, at the moment, it's really quiet, but only became quiet after two days full of tension, of clashes, and so on.

MONTAGNE: This was the biggest clash since Hamas took over Gaza. That is -that's pretty striking.

HAMDA: Well, actually, not the clash itself was the biggest, the rally, of which took place on Monday. It was one of the biggest actually. It was overall the expectation. Hundreds of thousands of people came down there to the rally. Most of them - they were supporters Yasser Arafat. But also I noticed that there are a lot of people who are not Fatah or even pro-Fatah, but there were there because they did not like the attitude, the leadership of Hamas in Gaza Strip.

MONTAGNE: Does that mean that Hamas is losing support rather than Fatah gaining support?

HAMDA: I guess so. I agree with that opinion. Hamas is losing, very fast, their popularity down here in Gaza Strip because of the political situation, economical situation, because of the force that they use against the civilians here in the region.

MONTAGNE: The situation facing Gaza residents has changed considerably since Hamas took control six months ago. Israel has imposed restrictions on the movement of people and goods, and the rest of the world has imposed all kinds of restrictions on the Hamas leadership there. It's led to factories being closed down, store shelves being empty, high prices. All together, how bad is it?

HAMDA: It's really bad. Actually, you cannot find a lot of goods here down in Gaza. The essential needs, you cannot find it in Gaza, plus the very, very expensive prices. Prices went up like four or five times because of the enclosure from the Israelis because of also the double taxes paid on those goods because taxes are collected from government (unintelligible) and recollected again here in Gaza by Hamas.

MONTAGNE: So, the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Fatah, what does this recent violent say and is there any end in sight?

HAMDA: Well, it's really, really difficult to expect such a thing because people are really getting desperate, and they don't know what to do. The situation here is really bad. Hamas is still pressing more on the civilians, on the people here. So it might blow up any moment here in Gaza Strip.

MONTAGNE: And when you say blow up, how do you mean?

HAMDA: Well, I mean, people are losing their patience here in Gaza. You saw what happened in that rally. Hundred of thousands people came there to show up, first of all, their support to Fatah and Arafat, second thing that they are against on what's going on in Gaza Strip from style of life, from the political leadership here in Gaza, from everything. So blow up - I don't know - it might be total collapse of the society here in Gaza.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for talking with us.

HAMDA: You're welcome. Bye-bye.

MONTAGNE: NPR's producer Ahmed Abu Hamda in the Gaza Strip.

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