Hamas traffic police started to work in the Gaza Strip on Sunday on the streets after Israel stopped its 22-day assault killing 1300 Palestinians with a quarter of children and wounded 5300.
"What rockets? Our rockets are like pencils compared to those fired by Israel," said one woman in the devastated town of Beit Lahiya. Like many Gazans, she did not want to give her name.
Palestinian rocket fire killed three Israeli civilians during the assault. The Israelis lost only 10 soldiers.
Hamas, which won a parliamentary election in 2006 and drove its Fatah rivals from Gaza in 2007, declared a ceasefire on Sunday.
Hence the traffic police and security men sent out as a visible symbol of the Hamas administration's authority.
Israeli bombs destroyed the compounds of all Hamas security forces and most government buildings, but Hamas officials and residents said the security forces had never stopped working.
Despite relentless Israeli attacks, Hamas inspectors still showed up at shops to check for price gouging, merchants said.
With jails bombed, some residents said Hamas had meted out rough justice to thieves.
"That way they were imprisoned at home or in hospital," said one man. Again, he did not want to be named for fear of repercussions.
Hamas portrayed Israel's unilateral ceasefire as a triumph:
"Hamas congratulates our people on this victory achieved by their resistance," a mosque loudspeaker blared overnight.
Some took the message at face value.
"We have been living under Zionist terrorism for over 20 days," said Khalil al-Rass, a vegetable seller.
"We will send them back to their underground shelters," he said as bystanders clapped and cheered. "We die but we will never kneel except before God."
But some Gazans criticised Hamas for continuing to fire rockets after the Israeli ceasefire announcement.
"We know their power was not destroyed, but at least give people a chance to breathe," said a taxi driver who again would not give his name out of fear. "Was what happened not enough?"
"They should stop now," he said. "They should think how to reach a real ceasefire, open the border crossings and bring money to help people rebuild and give them some compensation."
Aware of such sentiments among Gaza's 1.5 million people, bruised and dazed by all the blood and destruction, Hamas did indeed announce a conditional halt to resistance to Israel attacks.
One Hamas official said the movement had retained its military capacity, but its leaders had taken civilians losses into account and wanted to achieve political gains for Gazans.
Ali Hassan, a father of five whose family had to flee battle zones, said Hamas should reconsider its pinprick rocket attacks. "Once we have a missile that can reach the heart of Tel Aviv and blow up a building, maybe they can resume fire," he said.
A teacher, who would agree to be named only as Bassem and who is a Fatah supporter, said Hamas "showed no regard" for Gaza's people by firing rockets but he doubted the backlash against them would last, describing the "emotional" appeal of a movement led in Gaza by the territory's prime minister Ismail Haniyeh.
"Our people are too emotional," Bassem said. "Haniyeh just needs to speak at Friday prayers to patch up the damage, and you'll be surprised to see people clapping and cheering him."
Hamas may face a temporary backlash for the carnage of the past three weeks, but it remains deeply rooted in Gazan society, respected for its ideology of resistance and as well as its network of charities and social work.
Israeli security analyst Yossi Alpher said the movement was likely to emerge from the Gaza war more secure politically.
"One of the unintended spin-offs of this operation has been to implant Hamas even more strongly in the Gaza Strip."
Last Mod: 19 Ocak 2009, 15:48