Saturday, 26 April 2014

Gaza wants back in from the darkness as Hamas feels the isolation

In his haberdashery, Saleem Salouha tracks the ups and downs of his business against events beyond his control.

The good times for his shop in Gaza City were when Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were in power in Egypt. The bolts of cloth stacked behind Salouha came via the network of smuggling tunnels under the border at Rafah. Gazans had money too to buy his goods in the middle of a mini-economic boom.

All that, however, ended last July when Morsi was deposed in a military coup and the new regime deemed the Brotherhood a "terrorist" organisation.

Egypt accused Hamas, the Brotherhood's sister group that rules Gaza, of contributing to the security crisis in northern Sinai and closed down the smuggling tunnels.

Now Salouha orders the same goods, but they are brought through an Israeli crossing, pushing up prices by 30%, even as half his customers have withered away.

"It is a double blockade," Salouha says, referring to the long-term Israeli policy of limiting goods to Gaza since Hamas assumed control in 2007. He adds bitterly: "Israel and the Egyptians are competing with each other."

The story of the Salouha shop, in business since 1962, offers a microcosm of what has happened to Gaza and Hamas since Morsi was ousted.

It explains too why, after seven years governing Gaza at odds with its rival Fatah on the West Bank, Hamas might just be serious this time about moves to reconcile the often toxic Palestinian divisions. And if it is not serious, why Hamas views the agreement, signed this week, as an expedient move.

That deal – vague on detail – will see five weeks of talks for a national unity government, apparently largely technocratic. It would see moves to bring Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad under the umbrella of the PLO and the prospect of elections by the year's end. more

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