The Associated Press
October 19, 2008 - 8:00pm

Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip is now virtually complete.

Since the summer, the Islamic militants have sil-enced and disarmed their remaining opponents, filled the bureaucracy with their supporters, and kept Gaza's economy afloat, even if just barely, despite a 16-month-old international embargo and border blockades by Israel and Egypt.

With nothing in sight to weaken Hamas' grip, the political split between Gaza and the West Bank -the two territories meant to make up a future Palestinian state - looks increasingly irreversible.

That conclusion was also reached by the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank, in a September report describing Hamas' ascendancy, and the split is one of the main obstacles to US efforts to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

It weakens moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in the negotiations because he isn't seen as speaking for Gaza.

Israel, Abbas and the international community don't want a deal that leaves out the 362.6-square-kilometre Gaza Strip's and its 1.4 million Palestinians. And it's unlikely Israel would give up the West Bank as long as Hamas is in charge in Gaza.

Undisputed rule has also improved Hamas' leverage ahead of power-sharing talks with Abbas' Fatah movement in Cairo later this month.

Timeline: How it happened

Events marking Hamas' path to consolidating power in Gaza.

* September 11, 2005: The last Israeli soldiers and colonists leave Gaza, completing Israel's withdrawal after 38 years of military occupation.
* January 25, 2006: In election of a West Bank-Gaza parliament, Hamas wins 76 of 132 seats, most of them in Gaza. Western powers cut off aid to the Palestinians, and Israel withholds tax revenues. Repeated power-sharing efforts between Hamas and West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas collapse because of internal fighting in Gaza.
* June 14, 2007: Hamas defeats Abbas' forces in Gaza after five days of battle and sets up its own government in Gaza. Israel and Egypt seal Gaza's borders.
* June 18, 2008: A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ends rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli strikes against wanted militants, freeing Hamas to focus on tightening its grip on government. Israel eases its border blockade.


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