Poll shows rise in support by Palestinians for armed struggle

By Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) -Support for armed struggle as the best means to end Israeli occupation and achieve statehood rose among Palestinians while backing for the militant group Hamas also increased slightly in the last three months, according to an opinion poll.

The poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) showed support for armed struggle climbed by 8 percentage points to 54% of those surveyed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Support for Hamas rose by 6 percentage points to 40%. Fatah, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, had 20% backing.

The polling was carried out some eight months since the start of the Gaza war, which began when Hamas fighters stormed communities in Israel, killing some 1,200 people and abducting another 250, according to Israeli tallies, prompting the Gaza war.

More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed as a result of the devastating offensive Israel has waged in Hamas-ruled Gaza since then, Gaza health authorities say.

The poll found that two-thirds thought the Oct. 7 attack was a correct decision - a 4 percentage point drop from the previous poll. The decrease came from Gaza, where 57% of respondents said the decision was correct, down from 71% in March.

It showed that about 80% of Palestinians in Gaza had lost a relative or had a relative that had been injured in the war.

Walid Ladadweh, head of the Survey Research Unit at PSR, said that the increase in support for Hamas and armed action, while not significant compared to the previous poll, was a reaction to Israel's destruction and killing in Gaza.

He also said the poll reflected dissatisfaction with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority led by Abbas, who has long sought to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and rejects armed struggle.

The peace process which Palestinians hoped would yield a state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital - territories seized by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war - has been moribund for years, while Israel has expanded settlements in the West Bank and opposes Palestinian statehood.

Abbas and the Islamist Hamas have long been at odds over strategy, with Hamas viewing as a failure his approach of trying to negotiate a Palestinian state alongside Israel and advocating armed struggle.

"This war, like previous ones, has radicalization effects on both sides," said Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Birzeit University in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

More than 60% supported the PA's dissolution, the poll found, and 89% want Abbas to resign, up from 84% three months ago.

Hamas - which has long been shunned by many Western governments as a terrorist organisation and whose charter calls for Israel's destruction - seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Abbas-led PA in 2007 after defeating Fatah the previous year in a legislative election.

While the polls show Hamas has more support than Fatah, jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti is the most popular preference as Abbas' successor, with 39% supporting him, followed by Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh with 23%.

Israeli government spokesperson David Mencer, asked about the Palestinian poll, said: "I've got no way of knowing whether that's correct or not. Unfortunately it does sound as if it's correct. What sort of leadership does the Palestinian people have that lead them to this perpetual war?"

"Once Hamas is defeated, afterwards, we want Gaza to be run by Gazans - but not Gazans that are intent on killing Jews."

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Angus MacSwan)