Aides turn against leader over declining Gaza

RAMALLAH - Hamas leader Ismail Haniya is facing growing criticism from moderates within his own movement, with a former deputy saying yesterday that conditions in Gaza have deteriorated since Hamas' takeover of the Strip in June.

RAMALLAH - Hamas leader Ismail Haniya is facing growing criticism from moderates within his own movement, with a former deputy saying yesterday that conditions in Gaza have deteriorated since Hamas' takeover of the Strip in June.

"The situation after the military takeover is worse than in the past, despite the improvement of security," said Nasser al-Sha'er, who was deputy prime minister in the first government formed by the radical Islamic movement shortly after it beat the rival Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas in January 2006 legislative elections.

"The problem is not related to the field of security," al-Sha'er said. "The problem is that there was a state of unity and now it has collapsed."

He called on Hamas and Fatah "to review their stances and look for reasonable solutions to reunite the Palestinians and overcome the crisis".

His remarks came after two other Hamas leaders considered as moderates, Ghazi Hamad and Ahmed Yousef, also criticised the June move, during which Hamas - after a 15-month power struggle that erupted after the election - violently seized control of security compounds controlled by Fatah-dominated forces answering to Abbas.

Haniya sacked Hamad as his spokesman about two months ago, after Hamad published an article in Palestinian newspapers calling the Gaza takeover a "mistake".

Hamad had served as cabinet spokesman in the Hamas-led government formed in March 2006, and was appointed spokesman of Haniya's office when Hamas formed its short-lived unity government with Fatah in March.

Haniya has continued calling himself prime minister despite his dismissal by Abbas following the takeover, but his de facto government controlling Gaza has found itself isolated.

Israel reacted to the takeover by tightening its economic siege on the Strip, blocking all non-essential commercial traffic. Abbas has refused to return his presidential force to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, leading to the closure of that border too.

The international community has recognised the moderate but unratified "caretaker" government set up by Abbas in the West Bank while it continues to shun Hamas.

At least one in three Gazans are jobless, according to a World Bank report published last month, while some 78 percent of its 1,5 million inhabitants live under a poverty line of 500 US dollars a month for a family of seven.

Abbas's security forces, meanwhile, have stepped up their arrests of Hamas activists in the West Bank over an alleged plan by Hamas to take control of the West Bank as well. - Sapa-DPA

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