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Hamas Rule Offers Hope and Concern for West Bank City

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Hamas Rule Offers Hope and Concern for West Bank City

Middle East

Hamas Rule Offers Hope and Concern for West Bank City

Hamas Rule Offers Hope and Concern for West Bank City

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Many Palestinians in the West Bank city of Qalqilya are reacting with anger, fear and frustration to the prospect of diminished foreign aid under the new Hamas-run government. Local Hamas officials have been running Qalqilya since May of last year and people say daily life has improved under their rule.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

There's a battle for resources in the Middle East. Senior Hamas officials toured the Middle East capitals this week looking to Muslim states to help fund their new government. The U.S. and the European Union have said they will likely stop all but humanitarian aid once a Hamas led government is installed. For years, the Palestinian Authority has relied on about a billion dollars in Western assistance. Many Palestinians are reacting to the prospect of losing many of those funds with a mix of frustration and fear.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from a West Bank city, Qalqilya.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

56-year old Wally Nofil(ph) sits in a plastic chair on the sidewalk enjoying sips of Turkish coffee and cigarettes on a work break. The taxi driver takes the pulse of Qalqilya every day, driving the city's main streets and back alleys, talking with everyone. Nofil says he's no Hamas loyalist, but he says most here agree that life has generally improved since Hamas swept to power in local elections last spring.

With corrupt and inept Fatah city council members gone, he says, taxpayer dollars are now better spent, the city hall bureaucracy streamlined. But now with Hamas, the Palestinian-wide authority, Nofil worries things will deteriorate.

Mr. WALLY NOFIL: (Taxi Driver, Palestine): (Through Translator) The situation will worsen with the way America and Israel and European countries are all reacting towards those political change. How can America, and Bush in particular, preach democracy and then make it custom fit to his own classifications and standards?

WESTERVELT: In 2003, Israel completed a main stretch of its West Bank barrier just outside Qalqilya. This city of 45,000 Palestinians is now effectively isolated from the rest of the West Bank. A trip to nearby Nablus once took 40 minutes, now it can take four or five hours, Nofil complains, as locals have to maneuver through checkpoints, traffic and roadblocks. Nofil says more than money, he and local residents now want moral support from the international community.

Mr. NOFIL: (Through Translator): I want my freedom. I do not want a sack of flour. I would like to be able to go one kilometer away from here without getting a permit. I don't wish to go to Israel. I would like to go to Nablus. I want to be free to move around in the West Bank.

WESTERVELT: In the city's main market area, shopkeepers sell fresh vegetables, fruit and household goods. Nearby, one merchant sells para-military gear. There's a mannequin dressed in full battle gear, a mock-up of a suicide bomb belt strapped to its front. To Israel, that's just another sign that the Northern West Bank remains home, as one Israeli military official put it, to the largest terrorist infrastructure.

In nearby Nablus this week, at least eight Palestinians were killed and 14 militants arrested in an ongoing Israeli military operation. In Qalqilya, Palestinian families, such as the Daouds(ph) say continued military incursions are damaging an already precarious economy.

Mr. ACHMED(ph) DAOUD (Palestine): (Through Translator): They come in with jeeps, with tanks, in order to arrest one or two people, and then create hell in the life of the Palestinian people in Qalqilya.

INSKEEP: 26-year old Achmed Daoud works as a house painter and plaster craftsman. The walls of his living room are meticulously painted with sponged- on bright colors over a white wash. He learned the trade working inside Israel. But he says now the work is largely dried up. Achmed says most of his friends rely on Palestinian authority jobs, salaries that are now threatened since Israel has cut off the transfer of some $50 million it collects every month in Palestinian tax revenue.

Mr. DAOUD: (Through Translator) Last month the salaries were delayed five days only, and the chaos that erupted as a result of that was unbelievable in Qalqilya. There was absolute confusion. They were penniless and people were worried.

WESTERVELT: Most people are bracing for even tougher times ahead. A big European funded water and sewer project and other Western backed infrastructure improvements have been frozen since Hamas took local power here. The U.S. and the E.U. say the projects are likely to remain stalled unless Hamas recognizes Israel and pass peace agreements, and gives up its call to destroy the Jewish state. Those are conditions Hamas leaders so far say they are not prepared to accept.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Qalqilya.

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