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US envoy's visit could ease Gaza blockade

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But Gazans, impatient with stalled peace efforts, have taken matters into their own hands.

Jihad Saher rebuilt his home in the wake of Israel's January military offensive here entirely with mud. Because of an Israeli ban on the import of construction materials like cement and steel, a handful of others, including the Hamas-led government, are following suit.

But while Mr. Saher and many other Gazans boast of their symbols of perseverance – mud homes, subterranean tunnels ferrying in consumer goods, animal-drawn carts collecting rubbish – others are beginning to blame their deepening economic plight as much on the political wrangling of the two major Palestinian factions as on Israel's clenching of their borders.

According to recent polls, the majority of Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants believe they are worse off now than before the war and that the formation of a coalition between the Western-backed Fatah movement and Hamas Islamists is the best way to solve their crisis.

Sixty-five percent of Gazans now live under the poverty line, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) says.

"We know Israel is the source of the blockade, but the problems between the Palestinian factions are the primary reason it has been able to continue," says Osman Shawa, a restaurant owner and mid-level leader of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Gaza. "In Gaza, we are the ones that suffer from the inability to overcome these differences."

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