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Gaza strike hardens Hamas position

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The movement's increasingly entrenched position was the rhinoceros in the corner during President Bush's trip to the region.

Though the US is fostering a renewed dialogue between Fatah and Israel, which Bush said he expects to lead to a new peace deal by the end of this year, both he and Israel have made it clear that if Gaza-based attacks on Israel don't stop, Israel won't take concrete steps toward removing illegal settlements and outposts in the West Bank that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas controls.

Ahead of his meeting with Mr. Abbas in the West Bank, Bush said, "As to the rockets, my first question to President Abbas is going to be: What are you doing about them?" His remark drew laughs from Hamas leaders in Gaza and anger from remaining Fatah representatives.

"Bush looked like an idiot," says Gaza-based Fatah leader Karim Ahmed. "We have to stop the rockets before he can deliver results? Has he been paying attention to what's happening here?"

Abbas today has no power in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas is opposed to his dialogue with Israel, accusing Abbas of selling out Palestinian interests with the aim of maintaining international support.

While the restrictions on all but humanitarian food and medical shipments into the territory by Israel have crippled the economy – 90 percent of the factories in Gaza have shut down, putting about 30,000 out of work – Hamas has managed to keep money flowing in from outside to pay government workers and soldiers loyal to them.

Meanwhile, what was left of Fatah's political infrastructure after Hamas overpowered Fatah's Gaza security forces in June has been systematically weakened. A number of Fatah activists have been arrested by Hamas, most notably Omar al-Ghoul, a senior adviser to Fatah Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in December.

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