Saturday, June 7, 2008

Israel threatens Starving Gaza

"Gazans stock up on supplies as Israel threatens war"

by Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent, Gaza | June 07, 2008

In "The Australian", at:,25197,23823233-2703,00.html

AS ISRAEL gave its strongest warning yet that war in Gaza was imminent, many Gazans were stockpiling meagre supplies and continuing to blame the Israelis and their allies for the crushing two-year siege.

Support for the ruling Hamas administration has not waned noticeably over the past year, despite the ever-tightening boycott Israel put in place when Hamas seized power last June.

However, Israel blames the militant Islamic group for the suffering of Gaza's 1.3 million people, and has been trying to force a revolt of the popularly elected Government.

The siege is now biting harder than ever. Petrol prices have risen to $8 a litre, with car owners given coupons limiting them to 20 litres a week. Gas prices are more than triple what they were in March, and the price of most staple vegetables has doubled.

Despite this, there are few outward signs of dissent against Hamas leaders or administrators. A straw poll of Gaza locals - even in areas where yellow flags of Fatah still fly above the homes - reveals immense frustration, but little willingness to blame the Government. But anger towards the West is palpable.

"I didn't vote for Hamas and I wish they'd just leave," said Azmi al-Baharadi, who runs a mobile phone shop on the waterfront that reeks of raw sewage.

"It's true they do not like criticism here, but they are more open than even I thought they would be, and they did beat us in the elections, after all. The siege is not their fault, and we know this in Gaza."

There are indications throughout Gaza that Hamas has benefited from the boycott, by being able to demonstrate it has stood firm against Israel, as well as the quartet of Russia, the European Union, the US and the UN.

"The whole world hates us," said Hanefah Chamali. "They think Gaza is a zoo and everyone wants to break out and kill everyone around us."

As The Weekend Australian spoke to the Gazan police chief Tawfiq al-Jabr - a one-time Fatah loyalist - a senior Hamas delegation paid a courtesy visit, pledging support with traffic management and community policing. All had been senior members of Hamas's military wing and carried burn marks and sleeves hanging loose over armless torsos to prove it.

"We are now operating at 15 to 20 per cent of our capacity," said Mr Jabr.

"And that's because we cannot afford the petrol for our patrol cars, or to pay salaries. But even with such a disadvantage, Gaza is a much safer place than it was a year ago.

"I have had more than 200 applications from former Fatah-aligned officers to rejoin the police after they left last June," he said. "If Gaza was splitting along political lines, this would not be happening."

The Israeli air force attacked a house in northern Gaza early yesterday believed to be linked to a mortar strike inside Israel on Thursday that killed a resident of a kibbutz. Fifteen people were wounded in the Israeli air attack.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned yesterday that a large-scale military operation in Gaza "is closer than ever, and it will likely precede a ceasefire".