Six months ago, Hamas Islamic militants seized control of the Gaza Strip, ousting Fatah forces loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. VOA's Jim Teeple reports that the past six months have been hard for Gazans and, with no sign that Hamas militants plan to moderate their positions, conditions could get even worse.
The gas is running out in Gaza. Israel recently began cutting fuel supplies in yet another bid to pressure militants here to stop firing rockets at Israeli towns just across the border.
Hamid Bahalal is one of the biggest gas station owners in Gaza. He says fuel supplies have been cut in half and there is not enough gas to run basic services. "It is not enough for the Gaza Strip – for the hospitals, for the water wells, for the stations, for the cars, for everything."
With little gas, Gaza's once bustling streets are now deserted. Donkey carts have replaced trucks. Israeli officials say fuel supplies have only been cut by 15 percent.
Hamas seized power in Gaza in a bloody revolt against Fatah forces, who were widely viewed as corrupt and lawless. Following the takeover, Israel sealed Gaza's borders. The Israelis consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
Hamas officials, such as Fawzi Barhoum, offer no apologies. Barhoum says Hamas brought much needed stability to Gaza. He says outside forces cause Gaza's problems. "First of all, we are not responsible for the siege embargo, which is a collective punishment against the Palestinians who voted for Hamas. But, finally, we took over Gaza as a security step and we believe that we will turn it back to the road of dialogue and the road of negotiation with Abu Mazen (Abbas) and with Fatah." Hamas speaks of reconciliation, but it continues to consolidate power in Gaza. It recently took over Gaza's court system and key ministries.
Raji Sourani is the director of the Palestinian Center for Human rights. He says Hamas has brought stability, but Gazans are less free today then they were six months ago. "I am talking about problems related to torture, political arrests, banning freedom of expression. I am talking about attacking the judiciary and taking over the civilian judiciary. I'm having problems related to the detention of people and applying the rule of law. These are serious issue and are a deep concern and we are giving it focus."
Hazem Abu Shanab knows all about those issues. He is the Fatah spokesman in Gaza. He recently organized the first mass demonstration in Gaza against Hamas rule, and blames Hamas gunmen for killing several Fatah supporters during the protest. Abu Shanab says Hamas needs to change the way it thinks. "The problem is in the Hamas mentality. They need to know they have to participate and they have to share in the making up of the future of the Palestinian people. They cannot rule by themselves."
Meanwhile, ordinary Gazans, such as a woman and her sons we met, struggle to make a living. The strawberries she sells would normally end up in Israel or Europe, but now she sells them for virtually nothing here on the streets of Gaza.