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Desperate Palestinians have begun attacking Hamas security forces as tensions grow in Gaza over chronic shortages of food, water and medicine.
In rare acts of defiance, Gazans hurled rocks at Hamas police who tried to jump a queue for water, and openly insulted Hamas officials, witnesses said.
The clashes suggest that Hamas’s authoritarian rule is beginning to crumble and that locals hold it at least partly to blame for the humanitarian crisis brought about by the Israeli invasion.
The signs of mounting dissent were revealed by Gazans who spoke to the Associated Press news agency.
They described a breakdown in law and order brought on by food shortages, with fights breaking out in bread queues. People were carrying knives and sticks to protect themselves, they said.
One Gazan who was scolded by a Hamas officer for trying to jump a bread queue hit the accuser over the head with a chair, according to an aid worker standing in the line.
A woman said her nephew, a father of five in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, was stabbed after being accused of jumping a water queue.
“Everywhere you go, you see tension in the eyes of people,” said Yousef Hammash, an aid worker with the Norwegian Refugee Council in the southern town of Khan Younis.
“You can tell they are at a breaking point.”
Some Gazans have lost their fear of Hamas, whose security forces normally police the territory with an iron fist.
Over the past few nights in Gaza City, hundreds of residents at one UN shelter decried Hamas each time the group fired salvoes of rockets overhead towards Israel.
They said they wanted the war to end, according to a witness sheltering there with his family.
During a televised press conference on Tuesday, a young man with a bandaged wrist pushed his way through the crowd to disrupt a speech by Iyad Bozum, a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry.
“May God hold you to account, Hamas!” he yelled, shaking his wounded hand.
The anger at Hamas does not imply sympathy for Israel – merely that Gazans feel Hamas has played into their enemies’ hands.
Abu Hamza, a Gaza resident who was fleeing from the north, lashed out at Ismael Haniyeh, Hamas’s Qatar-based leader.
‘Haniyeh is biggest collaborator’
“Those people who destroyed Gaza, tell Ismael Haniyeh that Abu Hamza from the Shati refugee camp said that you are the biggest collaborator!” he yelled at a passing journalist who filmed the encounter on a mobile phone.
Since the start of Israel’s ground invasion of northern Gaza a fortnight ago, nearly half of Gaza’s 2.5 million population has been displaced, most fleeing into overcrowded shelters in southern towns like Khan Younis.
Israel cut off water to Gaza after Hamas’s massacre last month. While the pipelines have since been turned back on, a lack of fuel for water pumps has caused taps to run almost dry.
Residents must now wait hours for gallons of brackish pump water, or risk unfiltered supplies from wells that can cause serious illness.
With the displaced often sharing one toilet among hundreds, diseases like scabies and diarrhoea are spreading.
“My kids are crying because they are hungry and tired and can’t use the bathroom,” said Suzan Wahidi, a mother of five at a UN shelter in the central town of Deir al-Balah. “I have nothing for them.”
For many Gazans, daily existence is now one long round of queues for water and bread.
Families typically dispatch their sharpest-elbowed relatives for the task, who must hold their own if a riot breaks out.
‘Back with bruises’
“I send my sons to the bakeries and eight hours later, they’ve come back with bruises and sometimes not even bread,” said 59-year-old Etaf Jamala, who fled Gaza City for Deir al-Balah, where she sleeps in a hospital hallway with 15 relatives.
The discord is all the more distressing, given the pride many Gazans take in showing solidarity in times of suffering.
“The social fabric for which Gaza was known is fraying due to the anxiety and uncertainty and loss,” said Juliette Touma, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
Many Gazans said they live on one meal a day. Often it is made up mainly of dried foodstuffs like dates and biscuits, with fresh produce like milk, eggs and meat a distant memory.
“There is a real threat of malnutrition,” said Alia Zaki, a UN World Food Programme spokesman.
Dr Ali al-Uhisi, who works in Deir al-Balah, said health problems like chicken pox and head lice were spreading, and that he had dealt with 20 cases of hepatitis A liver infection.
“What worries me is that I know I’m seeing a fraction of the total number of cases,” he said.
Some patients are missing vital chemotherapy treatments, and others have even assaulted doctors if their needs cannot be met.
Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians continue to leave northern Gaza through temporary humanitarian corridors to the south, most on foot with just a few belongings.
Tarneem Hammad, advocacy officer at charity Medical Aid for Palestinians, said: “People are forced to walk and forced to raise white flags and hold their IDs and hands in the air.”
“People report seeing dead bodies on the road, with birds, crows and dogs eating the bodies.”