Hamas asserting control in Gaza

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. America's new Mid East envoy George Mitchell heads out tonight on a trip to Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The US State Department says the trip is aimed at shoring up the Gaza ceasefire. So far, neither Hamas nor Israel seems interested in a renewal of fighting. But inside the Gaza Strip, Hamas is striving to prove that it's still providing services and is still firmly in control. The World's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: The destruction took weeks. Rebuilding may take years. Across the Gaza Strip, men are working to clean up the rubble. Near Palestine Square in Gaza City, men with sledgehammers are knocking down the remains of a police station, gutted by an air strike. The stated objective of the Israeli offensive was to weaken Hamas, but Hamas is now aiming to prove it can still provide for the people. At the office of the Islamic Society in Jabaliya, men in green Hamas baseball caps and black jackets are stuffing envelopes with US $100 bills. They say they're doling out millions to the newly homeless, widowed, and orphaned. It's going to take at least three years to rebuild, says Ramis Al Gherbawi, Director of the Islamic Society, a semi-official Hamas charity. Hamas has plenty of money to distribute, he says, but that's not the biggest issue. With the Israeli and Egyptian border crossings still closed, key items like cement and fuel are in short supply, Al Gherbawi says. The United Nations and other aid groups make the same complaint. They said Gazans basic needs are getting caught up in a political dispute. International aid groups say they have a proven system to keep their donated goods away from Hamas control. For the Islamic Society, it's quite the opposite. That house was Hamas, that one was from a different faction,� says Al Gherbawi, standing in front of a ruined block in Jabaliya. He says his organization doesn't discriminate when it comes to aid. Whether that's true or not, there's no doubt in anyone's mind here who their benefactor is.

KHALIL RAYAN: Thirty years. I am work 30 years. I built this house. Thirty years I am built this house.

LAWRENCE: Khalil Rayan has just accepted a few hundred dollars in emergency aid to help him survive. He's hoping for more compensation from the Hamas government later. As for Hamas's rival, Fatah, and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, Rayan has one word: �Traitor�, he says. �Abbas is a traitor, and if the money were from him I wouldn't take it.� Many in the international community hope that this latest crisis in Gaza might help bring Palestinian factions together, forcing a weakened Hamas to sue for peace with Fatah. But that's not the impression here on the ground. Fatah members, like this man, declined to give their names for interviews. He says he's heard rumors of Hamas enforcers beating up or even knee-capping anyone who voices dissent.

FATAH: There is fear, whether before or after the war. And even Hamas did not hurt a lot after the war, so what's the difference?

LAWRENCE: So you don't think Hamas is weaker?

FATAH: On the ground here in Gaza? Absolutely no.

LAWRENCE: Negotiations in Egypt this week may yet show that Hamas has been weakened by drawing the people of Gaza into a war that killed so many civilians. But inside the Gaza Strip, the Islamist group is still firmly in place, handing out money and reining in dissent. For The World, this is Quil Lawrence, in Gaza City.