Doubtful Gaza Populace Lukewarm to News of Aid Plan

The announcement of a new aid plan for the Palestinians prompts only faint optimism in the Gaza Strip, where economic and social conditions are continuing to deteriorate. The plan was agreed to by the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union.

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The temporary humanitarian aid plan for the Palestinians is drawing a cool reaction in the Gaza Strip. The plan was worked out by what's known as the Quartet: the U.S., the European Union, Russia and the U.N. Details will be worked out next week in Brussels. The plan aims to bypass the Hamas-led government, which Israel and the West consider a terrorist group.

From Gaza, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

More than 160,000 Palestinian police, nurses, teachers and civil servants have gone weeks without income. Many here in Gaza say any plan to renew aid has to include payment of overdue salaries, not just medical or humanitarian relief. Many met word of the Quartet's plan with a skeptical inshallah, God-willing, wait-and-see attitude.

Policeman Khalid Majar(ph).

Mr. KHALID MAJAR (Policeman, Gaza): (Through translator) We have heard about a trust fund, but we have seen nothing in reality. It's been two months now that we haven't had a salary. We are strong people, the Palestinian people. But let me tell you, I am living on debt. And God only knows how I manage with my life.

WESTERVELT: It's not yet clear how much aid will flow, when and through what mechanism. It appears, according to sources involved in the Quartet talks, that the money will largely go for medical and health aid, including possibly paying salaries of healthcare workers. But the majority of unpaid workers are security men with guns. It appears unlikely the plan will cover their long overdue salaries.

The proposal received a cold response from senior Hamas officials in Gaza. Mushir al-Masri(ph) is a Hamas member of parliament and a spokesman.

Mr. MUSHIR AL-MASRI (Hamas): (Through translator) As I see it, it is just an idea. We don't know what the tools are of implementation. All tools and modalities are not clear. We only know one thing. That any money that passes to the Palestinian people will have to pass through the proper official channels, and this is the Ministry of Finance.

WESTERVELT: In fact, the plan's aim is to bypass the Hamas-led Ministry of Finance. Instead, money might be funneled through the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah Party was trounced by Hamas in January's Palestinian election.

The proposal has done nothing to diffuse the long simmering tensions between Hamas and Fatah. This week, at least five separate clashes between gunmen from the rival camps has left four people dead and two-dozen injured, including several kids who were caught in the cross-fire while walking to school. Each side has kidnapped the other's men. This morning, unknown gunmen shot and badly injured the brother of a Hamas militant leader in an apparent revenge attack.

Abu Zaida is the nom de guerre of a cell leader in the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's underground military wing. He says any attempt to bolster Fatah will undermine the clean government mandate Hamas was elected to carry out.

Mr. ABU ZAIDA (Cell Leader, Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades): (Through translator) The money goes to Abbas, then we'll go back to point zero, which is theft, corruption. And this is something that we reject totally. We will not accept it.

WESTERVELT: Relations between the Islamists of Hamas and the largely secular Fatah have always been rough. But since Hamas's election win, disputes have devolved into running gun battles. Leaders on both sides have moved to exert control over the Palestinian Security Forces. The frequent clashes have renewed fear of a civil war. Senior Hamas and Fatah leaders met this week in Gaza and pledged to calm this latest crisis. But their gunmen on the streets say the tension has hardly subsided.

Mr. HAMIS ABU SHRAIDA(ph) (Preventive Security Force, Fatah): (Through translator) They have chosen this civil war, not us. It has not finished. It has not ended.

WESTERVELT: Hamis Abu Shraida works in the Fatah-controlled Preventive Security Force. He says the Quartet's aid proposal is only a short-term fix. The only real solution, Abu Shraida says, is the collapse of the Hamas-led government.

Mr. SHRAIDA: (Through translator) We do not want a temporary solution. We want a permanent solution. And the permanent solution is for this Hamas government to fall.

WESTERVELT: Nearby, his colleague, Ahmed Shalid(ph), adds, I only take orders from Fatah. I don't recognize Hamas.

Meantime, both factions could soon have trouble getting any gas for their cars. An Israeli company, the sole provider of gasoline to the Palestinian territories, cut off delivery of new fuel yesterday, citing unpaid bills.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza.

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