The Islamic militant group Hamas is marking the one year anniversary of its landslide victory in Palestinian elections. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the occasion was marred by fresh fighting between rival Palestinian factions that left at least 15 people dead.
Chanting "Allah is great," several thousand Palestinians rallied in the Gaza Strip to mark the election victory that brought Hamas to power a year ago. But celebrations were dramatically scaled back after a fresh outbreak of deadly fighting between gunmen from Hamas and the rival Fatah faction. The situation was so tense and dangerous that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas cancelled a planned appearance at the rally.
The fighting has raised fears of civil war and underscores a turbulent year of Hamas rule. The Hamas-led government has been crippled by international sanctions because of its refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel. As a result, Palestinians have plunged deeper into poverty.
Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid says Hamas rule has been a failure.
"The Palestinians should think about their future," Eid said. "Otherwise, with Hamas, there is no Palestinian future at all."
Nevertheless, Hamas still enjoys popularity, says David Horowitz, editor of Israel's English language daily Jerusalem Post.
"It might seem to us watching from the outside obvious that Hamas has been a disaster for the Palestinians, that their insistent refusal to accommodate to the notion of Israel has cut funding, it's turned the PA [Palestinian Authority] into a pariah regime; and yet you see opinion polls and you get the sense that the Palestinian public has not turned on Hamas," he said.
One reason is that with no movement on the peace process, Hamas's call to end Israel's occupation of the West Bank through jihad, or holy war, has broad appeal. Hamas is given credit for forcing Israel to withdraw from Gaza in 2005.
But with Hamas crippled by sanctions, moderate Palestinian President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas wants to topple the government and replace it with a new regime that would be more acceptable to the international community. But he is too weak to confront Hamas by disbanding the government or setting a date for early elections.