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ISRAEL: Israeli sanctions backfiring?

JERUSALEM, 21 March 2008 (IRIN) - The Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip has hit the business sector, farmers and those who might benefit from development projects, but helped Hamas consolidate its authority in Gaza, says a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Over three quarters of the population receive humanitarian aid, making them more dependent than ever on the international community.

The report, entitled Ruling Palestine I: Gaza Under Hamas, quoted a political analyst who described Gaza as an "internationally-supplied welfare project".

"International donors, along with the UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, also have infused massive amounts of money, substituting humanitarian aid for development assistance, in effect turning most Gazans into wards of the international community," the ICG said.

Items like pipes and cement have been difficult to import since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, which means that projects such as laying sewage lines and building schools have been hampered, UN officials and aid workers told IRIN.

"Gazans are living under conditions of extreme poverty, both physically and economically isolated from the outside world - a humanitarian degradation that is barely sustainable," the report went on, noting prices for basic goods had increased.

Factories can no longer import raw materials or export goods, workers are being laid off, and farmers are either forced to sell their produce at very low prices locally or left with rotting produce: the crossing points remain closed for exports.

Israeli "buffer zones" inside the enclave in areas close to the Jewish state have taken up 35 percent of Gaza's agricultural land, the ICG said, while planted areas and wells have been destroyed during incursions.

Hamas not weakened

The sanctions have not weakened Hamas. Its military wing has gone from strength to strength, and recently began to fire Grad-style rockets at the Israeli port of Ashkelon. Hamas now has firm control of the taxation system, judiciary and police.

The sanctions on Hamas have consolidated its hold on Gaza and weakened the population," Nicolas Pelham, the ICG’s senior analyst in Jerusalem, told IRIN, adding that the private sector, one of the strongest groups in favour of a political process with Israel, was being driven to its knees.

In terms of human rights, a functioning judiciary, freedom of the press and other issues, there is reason to believe the international isolation of Hamas is having adverse impacts.

ICG recommendations

To avoid more violence and a collapse of the peace process, there must be a productive dialogue between Fatah and Hamas - and thus between the West Bank government and the Gaza government - and between Israel and Hamas, the report said in its conclusions. Not least, there must be an agreement reached on reopening the borders.

The ICG called on the UN, the West and Arab states to "adopt unambiguously the goal of influencing Hamas's conduct rather than defeating it," and said Israel and Hamas should both agree to an immediate 15-day ceasefire to allow the players to arrange a more lasting end to hostilities.

The calls come as international aid group, and even voices within Israel, support engaging Hamas, and there are signs that the USA is backing Egyptian efforts to set up negotiations between the Islamists and Israel, news reports said.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Governance

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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