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Israeli Assault on Gaza Galvanizes Hamas Support in West Bank


Israel's continued offensive in Gaza - now in its third week - is drawing many Palestinians in the West Bank to support Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. They accuse the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of not doing enough to defend the Palestinians of Gaza.

Palestinian doctors and nurses march in central Ramallah to protest Israel's assault on Gaza, and the mounting casualties. Some hold posters with grisly images of dead children pulled from the rubble in Gaza.

Demonstrations like these have become almost a daily occurrence across the West Bank since the assault began more than two weeks ago.

Siham Nasser is a nurse at a hospital in Ramallah. Wearing her nurse's frock and holding a banner, she says she would normally not take time off from work to join any demonstration. But she says the idea of innocent civilians dying is too much for her to keep quiet.

"The pictures of the children, the pictures of the poor women who cannot defend themselves and their families," said Siham Nasser. "The Israelis are shelling their houses. Those people have no weapons to defend themselves."

The protest is peaceful. Newly trained security forces of the Palestinian Authority keep a close eye. The green flags that symbolize Hamas are banned and nowhere to be seen. Violence could destabilize the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate who has been in negotiations with Israel.

Mr. Abbas' Fatah faction, a rival of Hamas, fears citizens' anger could galvanize support for Hamas in the West Bank. On the streets of Ramallah, there are signs that already is happening, albeit quietly.

Many Hamas politicians here are in jail. Those who are not say Israel's Gaza offensive has helped build support for Hamas among West Bank Palestinians who accuse Mr. Abbas and Fatah of being soft on the Jewish state.

Ayman Daraghmeh is a Hamas politician who was elected to the now collapsed Palestinian parliament. He acknowledges that Mr. Abbas has given speeches defending the Palestinians of Gaza. But Daraghmeh tells VOA Mr. Abbas has failed to address what he says is the central question with Israel.

"When he started talking about the aggression against Gaza, he was not frankly holding the responsibility [of] the occupation to Israel, which is the reason, which is the root of what is happening here in this area," said Ayman Daraghmeh.

Israel pulled its troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, but controls access to the Strip through the border crossings. When Israelis close the border, the 1.5 million people of Gaza cannot get food and other provisions or export their own products.

Many Palestinians in the West Bank have long expressed anger at the Abbas government, accusing it of corruption and of collaborating with Israel.

This woman on a street in Ramallah says if she could cast a ballot, she would vote for Hamas.

"For sure," she said. "I would vote for people who fight the occupation and defend us and bring us dignity and not for people who only want to be in the seats to put money in their pockets."

Israel says it will stop the attacks on Gaza when it has destroyed Hamas's ability to launch rockets and sealed the tunnels under Gaza's border with Egypt, used to smuggle weapons.

During a six month truce, Hamas and Israel accused each other of violations. Hamas refused to renew
the truce, and its firing of rockets at Israel triggered the invasion.

Israeli officials accuse Hamas of using civilians to shield militants and hide rockets, a charge Hamas denies. Whether it is true or not that Hamas is using the images of dead children as a propaganda tool, the pictures are having an effect on the way people in the West Bank see the conflict.

This Ramallah resident, who says he has never been a Hamas supporter, is asked whether he thinks Hamas should stop firing rockets at civilians in southern Israel and thus bring an end to the Israeli assault on Gaza.

"No," he said. "My opinion is that they should not stop because their choice is to die fighting with dignity or die with humiliation."

Hamas' charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Some in Israel have warned against allowing elections in the West Bank any time soon.

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