GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A year into Hamas' rule in the Gaza Strip, courts are meting out justice, police are arresting thieves, motorists are paying for licenses and authorities are blocking Internet porn sites.
At the same time, Gazans are stocking up on vegetable oil — not for cooking, but to run their cars during a severe fuel shortage. A punishing Israeli-led blockade has forced 80 percent of the people to rely on United Nations food handouts. With sanitation services collapsing, millions of gallons of raw sewage are flowing into the sea. Enemies of the regime have been silenced.
A year after Hamas militants seized power in five days of bloody fighting that included tossing rivals off high-rise rooftops, it's become clear that Israel's boycott of Gaza has not significantly weakened Hamas and that its control is deepening.
"We've only become stronger. We will not stand down. We will not go back," said Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri.
Hamas' rule in Gaza — along with a corruption scandal in Israel that threatens to bring down Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — is badly damaging prospects for a U.S.-backed Mideast peace initiative that seeks to forge an agreement by year's end between Israel and the moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.
Hamas is on a collision course with Israel, which still controls Gaza's borders, air space and coastline despite having withdrawn its army and settlers from the territory three years ago. Gaza militants launch rockets at southern Israel almost daily, and Israel targets Gaza with airstrikes, land incursions and missiles said to be fired from unmanned drones.
The fighting has killed more than 400 Gazans and injured thousands of others in the past year. On the Israeli side, 11 soldiers have died fighting inside Gaza and six Israeli civilians have been killed and 110 wounded by shells fired into Israel.
Hamas, aware of the damage the Gaza-West Bank split has done to the Palestinians' statehood aspirations, says it wants to return to a power-sharing arrangement with Fatah, but for Fatah's West Bank government, joining forces with Hamas could jeopardize the large amount of money it gets from the international community. And Israel has made it clear it won't hold peace talks with any government that includes Hamas, which remains sworn to the Jewish state's destruction.
Meanwhile, the prevailing view in Gaza is that Hamas is becoming entrenched.
Support from Syria and Iran helps keep the government running. The moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, also sends lots of money paying salaries to former Fatah employees if they stay home from work.
But even Gazans with money can find little to buy. Some goods are smuggled in through tunnels from Egypt, but mostly only food and medicine are allowed in, leaving shortages of everything from cement to baby strollers.