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For Hamas, conflict with Israel holds promise of gains

July 14, 2014 12:26 A.M. (Updated: July 14, 2014 12:26 A.M.)
By: Sara Hussein and Mai Yaghi
GAZA CITY (AFP) -- Mired in economic crisis and sidelined by former allies, Hamas has little to lose and much to gain in its latest conflict with Israel, analysts say.

The flare-up in violence has exacted a heavy human toll in Gaza, with more than 1,300 Israeli strikes having killed 166 people as the operation entered its sixth day on Sunday.

Hamas has seen its leaders and military capabilities targeted, but analysts say it was in a position of such weakness before the war that it only stands to gain from this round of fighting.

Its one-time key ally Egypt has largely turned against the Islamist movement following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi last year and a subsequent crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood, which had backed Hamas.

Since then, ties between Hamas and the Cairo government, now headed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, have deteriorated significantly.

Egypt has systematically destroyed the tunnels running between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, while keeping the official Rafah crossing mostly closed, contributing to a disastrous drop in Hamas's revenues from smuggling.

On the domestic front, Hamas -- which has governed Gaza for the past seven years -- recently signed a reconciliation deal with its Palestinian rivals in the West Bank.

The agreement effectively loosened Hamas's grip on power in Gaza, with the Islamist movement dissolving its government in favour of a consensus government of independents that is largely based in Ramallah.

'Nothing to lose'

Under such circumstances, the current conflict could be something of a boon for the group, said Akram Attallah, an independent analyst in Gaza.

"What Hamas wants from this war is to show it is still able to defend its people," he told AFP, saying the conflict could leave it "both more popular and better off financially."

"Whatever the outcome of the war, Hamas has nothing to lose," added Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a professor of political science at Gaza's Al-Azhar University.

"They're not in government any more, so they can't lose that, and they have no money coming in from either the tunnels or taxes."

Toward the end of its time in government, Hamas had been in a very difficult position financially due to a growing economic crisis, rendering it unable to pay more than half of its 50,000 employees.

But the high-profile conflict could now see an influx of aid that would enable Hamas to once again return to its traditional role of provider for Gaza's 1.7 million residents.

And it could even offer an opportunity -- by means of a truce agreement -- for Hamas to secure an easing of Israel's eight-year blockade, which has contributed to the economic crisis.

Although talk of a truce seems far off for now, past arrangements have involved promises of greater aid and an easing of Israel's siege.

"Hamas wants to return itself to the political map after more than a year of marginalisation following the ouster of Morsi," Abu Saada said.

"Anything that Hamas can win from this war will be an achievement for it and will be presented as a victory."

Hamas wins, Abbas loses

And it could also boost the Islamist movement's standing among Palestinians.

"Hamas feels that whatever losses and bloodshed the war might bring, it will return to it a position of importance," said Adnan Abu Amer, a professor of political science at Gaza's Umma University.

"The biggest loser in all of this is Abu Mazen," he said, referring to President Mahmud Abbas.

"If the war ends with political achievements for Hamas it will give them greater power," he said, showing they are able to negotiate concessions from Israel and the international community, unlike Abbas.

The conflict could also force a reset of relations between Hamas and Egypt, which is being reluctantly pushed into its traditional role of negotiating an end to hostilities in Gaza.

"Hamas is hoping that the war and the bloodshed in Gaza will embarrass Egypt, and lead to the opening of a high-level channel of communication with Cairo," Abu Saada said.

But analysts were dismissive of the effect of Israel's punishing strikes on Hamas's long-term military capabilities, saying the group would be able to eventually replenish its stock of domestically produced rockets.

And any discontent among Palestinians over the conflict was more likely to be directed at Israel than Hamas, they said.

"If Hamas is able to achieve any political gains from the war ... people will consider it to have won a victory," Abu Saada said.
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