- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

TEL AVIV — Nearly two-thirds of Palestinians think the Hamas-Fatah unity government should resign as approval levels for the two leading political parties in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have eroded, according to a survey by a Ramallah pollster.

Two-and-a-half weeks of factional violence in Gaza has stirred widespread frustration among Palestinians with the power-sharing coalition, which initially spurred optimism that it would end the fighting and restore law and order.

Sixty percent of the respondents said they think the government should step down, according to the Ramallah-based survey group Near East Consulting.

“The people realized very fast that this unity government is not what they expected,” said Jamil Rabah, director of the survey group.

“When people have high hopes, and then immediately after the unity government there’s the worst internal fighting people say, ‘What … is that?’ ”

About 64 percent say that both parties are to blame for the recent round of violence and 52 percent of survey respondents said they trusted neither secular Fatah nor Hamas’ Islamists, according to the poll.

At the same time, support for Fatah has dropped to 26 percent from 31 percent, and backing for Hamas slumped to 16 percent from 26 percent.

The poll was taken among 801 Palestinian adults May 20 to 23, and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas met with President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah in the Gaza Strip yesterday, as a delegation from Egypt continued efforts to mediate a cease-fire with Israel and among rival Palestinian militias.

The unity government was created from an agreement reached in February at a summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that was mediated by the Saudi government.

The accord was aimed primarily at ending the factional fighting, but it wasn’t enough to lift an international boycott on the government for not recognizing Israel and forswearing the use of violence.

The current round of violence has made Palestinians overwhelming pessimistic about avoiding a civil war. According to the survey, almost nine in 10 Palestinians say a civil war is likely.

The Gaza violence has spilled over the border, as Hamas militants fired hundreds of Qassam rockets at towns in southern Israel. Israel has responded by renewing targeted assassinations from the air, and has moved troops over Gaza’s border.

About two-thirds of survey respondents said the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel doesn’t serve any real benefit. Still, more than half of those polled said they support the rocket fire.

In an interview with the British Guardian newspaper, Khaled Meshal, Hamas’ Damascus, Syria-based leader, insisted the salvos would continue.

“Under occupation, people don’t ask whether their means are effective in hurting the enemy,” said Mr. Meshal. “The occupiers always have the means to hurt the people they control. The Palestinians have only modest means, so they defend themselves however they can.”

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