Middle East

Gazans Skeptical Obama Will Bring Mideast Change

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David Gilkey/NPR

In the Gaza Strip, where a tenuous cease-fire is holding, many Palestinians voiced skepticism Tuesday that the new Obama administration would mean a real change in U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Hamas is acting triumphant after three weeks of intense Israeli attacks. But for many civilians the devastation across the territory hardly says "victory."

At a well-attended rally through the devastated streets of Gaza City on Tuesday, the ruling Hamas movement reasserted its authority and declared victory. On the sidelines of the rally, Hamas spokesman Fouzi Barhoum told reporters President Obama must change U.S. policy toward Hamas and the Palestinians after what he called "the terrorism" of the Bush administration.

"Obama must take a lesson from all these crimes and mistakes committed by the American administration against the civilian people inside Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia and Palestine," he said.

Few people in Gaza seemed to care about the inauguration of Barack Obama. One Gazan returning to his ravaged home was asked if he knew what was happening in Washington. He shook his head "no" and walked on.

Many ordinary civilians struggling to rebuild shattered lives sneered at Hamas' assertion of "victory." Water and power problems are extensive. Hospitals are still clogged with the wounded. The UN estimates that some 50,000 homes in the territory were damaged or destroyed in the Israeli attacks.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Gaza on Tuesday, called the destruction "shocking and heartbreaking." He also said the Israeli shelling of several U.N.-run schools and an attack that set fire to the U.N.'s main warehouse were disgraceful.

"It is an outrageous and totally unacceptable attack against the United Nations," he said. "I have protested many times and I protest again today in the strongest terms."

Ban pledged that the U.N. will do all it can to mobilize international aid to help rebuild devastated homes and lives here.

Correction April 28, 2009

We said, "The U.N. here estimates that some 50,000 homes in the territory were damaged or destroyed in the Israeli attacks." Actual figures of home destruction, however, appear to have been much lower. Estimates by the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics established that about 4,100 Gaza homes were destroyed and 17,000 were damaged, for a total of 21,100 — a figure cited in subsequent NPR reports.



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