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Palestinians See Little Hope in Rice Visit

Morning Edition: October 4, 2006

Palestinians See Little Hope in Rice Visit

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

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

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

And I'm Deborah Amos, in for Renee Montagne.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later today, then with senior Israeli officials. Secretary Rice is exploring ways to restart long-stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Her aim is to support Abbas in his ongoing power struggle with the Palestinians' ruling party, Hamas. But the visit coincides with an increase in internal Palestinian violence, and that is complicating her mission.

NPR’s Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: In mid-September, rivals Hamas and Fatah appeared close to agreeing on the parameters of a national unity government. They hoped it would lead the way out of crippling Western sanctions imposed after Hamas, listed as a terrorist group, won last January’s elections. But by the end of September, talks had all but collapsed after Hamas refused to accept Israel’s right to exist. And this week, Fatah and Hamas were back to shooting at each other.

SOUNDBITE OF WALKING THROUGH BROKEN GLASS

Zahzid Hatar(ph), the editor of the weekly Hamas newspaper Reform Forum, walks through broken glass and debris in his office after it was ransacked Sunday night by a mob of masked men. This is what’s left of our national unity, Hatar says.

Mr. ZAHZID HATAR (Editor, Reform Forum): (Foreign language spoken)

WESTERVELT: This is the third time my newspaper has been attacked, Hatar says angrily. And the perpetrators, the criminals behind this, he fumes, are the rascals of Fatah.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Fatah gunmen, ostensibly protesting Hamas’ failure to pay salaries, burned Hamas offices and shot up several buildings. In the Gaza Strip the violence was worse, as running street battles broke out between Fatah and Hamas. Shots were even fired inside Gaza City’s main hospital. In all, two days of violence left at least 10 Palestinians dead and more than 100 wounded. Tuesday was quieter, although a Fatah faction threatened to assassinate senior Hamas leaders. And today masked gunmen killed local Hamas leader Mohammed Odeh as he left a mosque this morning near Qalqilyah in the West Bank.

This spring, the Fatah-Hamas power struggle threatened to widen into all-out civil war. Today on the streets of Ramallah, many worry that these latest clashes will only lead to more bloodshed.

Twenty-one-year-old Safa Jeborin(ph) works in a clothing store and is a student at a local university.

Ms. SAFA JEBORIN (Resident, Ramallah): (Through translator) It will escalate. It will get really bad and it is really embarrassing.

WESTERVELT: With Western aid cut off, Palestinian government workers have gone without full salaries since last February. Poverty, joblessness and civil unrest have all increased in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. In downtown Ramallah, residents finish last-minute food shopping before breaking the daily Ramadan fast. Jeborin says a visit today by America’ secretary of state will do nothing to improve life for Palestinians.

Ms. JEBORIN: (Through translator) It is meaningless. Her visit is meaningless. Nothing will change. She will do nothing for us.

WESTERVELT: In Saudi Arabia yesterday, Secretary Rice appealed for an end to internal Palestinian violence and called on Hamas to accept negotiations with Israel and other international conditions. Here on the West Bank, many Palestinians say after this summer’s devastating wars in Gaza and Lebanon and northern Israel, the U.S. has lost credibility and moral authority in brokering Middle East peace.

Fifty-two-year-old Thiev Humdan(ph) is a construction and masonry contractor.

Mr. THIEV HUMDAN (Contractor): (Through translator) America has never been an honest broker, and her actions will never bring any good for this area.

WESTERVELT: Secretary Rice’s visit today may help bolster Abbas’ public standing in his fight with Hamas. Abbas aides say national unity talks could restart soon. If not, they say, Abbas is considering dissolving the government and calling for new elections; a move many fear could lead to wider internal violence.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Ramallah.

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