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U.S. General Says Hamas Influence Waning in Gaza

24 May 2007

General Dayton says violence undoing support for terrorist group

Washington – Even though the security situation in Gaza has deteriorated sharply over the past six months, the most recent clashes between Hamas gunmen and Palestinian security forces offer some indication the tide may be turning against the militant extremists, according to the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Lieutenant General Keith Dayton briefed the House Foreign Affairs Committee May 23 on efforts to re-establish law and order in the Gaza Strip.

“Over the last six months, the situation has gotten to be quite dire in Gaza,” he told the congressmen. “We have a situation of lawlessness and outright chaos.”

He said there has been clear Hamas aggression toward the legitimate Palestinian security forces and a proliferation of small bands of militants.

“Any group of 10 people that has weapons can call themselves an army or a brigade, and they’re really under no one’s effective control,” he said. “And more worrisome still is the emergence of powerful clan-based militias in parts of Gaza that are clearly a threat to any law and order of the Palestinian security forces and to the Palestinian people.”

The recent violence has undermined the position of the militants, Dayton maintained. When gunmen loyal to Hamas attacked Palestinian Presidential Guard forces at the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel, the attack was repelled, he said. Likewise, a group of Palestinian security forces returning from training in Egypt met a Hamas attack at the Rafah border crossing and drove the militants back.

Both the Palestinian Presidential Guard and regular security forces benefited from recent training by the international community. “Training does pay off,” Dayton said. Training and equipping the Palestinian security forces is a major component of Dayton’s efforts to restore order to the Palestinian Territories.

He said Hamas also lost the goodwill of the Palestinian people during the most recent round of violence. “Their attacks this time were particularly brutal. This brutality really backfired,” he said. “There have been numerous reports about the Friday prayer services that occurred across Gaza and how the Hamas-affiliated imams tried to stir up the Palestinian people against Fatah and were greeted with people, who walked out of the sermons or, in a few cases, actually chased the imams out of the mosque.”

Dayton said the recent turmoil was very different from a round of violence in January in which Hamas scored easy victories across Gaza.

The general highlighted the basic pillars of his plan to re-establish law and order in the Palestinian Territories. These are: training and equipping the Presidential Guard; improving the security infrastructure at the Gaza border crossings; and building up the Office of National Security to serve as a central coordinator for all Palestinian security forces.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch told the congressmen that security is the key to any progress along the political track between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Welch said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has encouraged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to engage in a substantive dialogue aimed at realizing a Palestinian state. He also welcomed the Arab League’s reaffirmation of its 2002 Arab-Israeli peace initiative, saying it reinforces the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian talks. But he underscored the importance of security as a foundation for these efforts.

“Law and order is at the core of our political efforts and our political efforts can’t succeed without security,” he said.

Mark Ward from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Near East bureau briefed the congressmen on U.S. efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis in the face of an economic decline and growing insecurity. He said the United States provides health care and nutrition assistance to women and children through the private health care system. The United States also has undertaken small-scale infrastructure projects providing water, sanitation, education, hygiene and health assistance for nearly 10 percent of the Gaza population.

The United States is the single largest donor to the World Food Programme, which provides food for 300,000 Palestinians.

For more information on U.S. policies, see The Middle East: A Vision for the Future.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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