Traverse City Record-Eagle

Body & Soul

March 15, 2014

Hamas in worst cash crisis since seizing Gaza Strip

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been hit by the worst economic crisis since seizing the territory seven years ago and face growing discontent, even among core supporters, because there’s no sign of relief from a blockade enforced not only by Israel but also by a suddenly hostile Egypt.

Hamas government employees have complained publicly about getting only partial salaries for the past four months. Bus drivers have staged a strike over soaring fuel prices. Laborers have lost jobs as construction has dried up. Hamas’ own surveys show its popularity plummeting.

“I never experienced a situation worse than this one,” said Ahmed Zeitouniya, 32, who has been walking to his job in the Culture Ministry because he can no longer afford $1 in bus fares and is in debt to the neighborhood grocery and his oldest son’s kindergarten.

Gaza’s isolation is unlikely to ease soon. Instead, Israel and Egypt have tightened their border closures.

Israel sealed its only cargo crossing with Gaza on Wednesday after the Islamic Jihad group fired dozens of rockets from the territory at Israel. Hamas seems to tolerate occasional Islamic Jihad attacks on Israel as a release valve for the public’s discontent. However, Hamas has largely observed a truce with Israel since heavy fighting 2012 and does not seem interested in further escalation.

The game changer for Hamas was the Egyptian military’s ouster last July of then-President Mohammed Morsi. The military-backed government in Cairo has since banned Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood — the region-wide movement that also spawned Hamas — and has shut down most of the smuggling tunnels along the Gaza border, which were an economic lifeline for the strip.

The Hamas government lost nearly two-thirds of its revenue as a result, said Omar Shaban, a Gaza economist. With the tunnels, Hamas earned about $500 million a year — of an annual budget of just under $900 million — in taxes on the Egyptian imports, said Shaban.

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