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An apolitical group of community activists, businessmen and academics in the Gaza Strip is worried that Fatah-Hamas rivalries will undermine the Strip's reconstruction.

Both Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, have announced separate plans to repair the damages of last month's Israeli operation in Gaza. The new association plans to urge them to either form a joint leadership for the reconstruction effort or establish a steering committee comprised of "respected, professional and noncorrupt community representatives" to oversee the work.

An international conference to raise funds for the reconstruction will take place in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt early next month, and representatives of 80 countries are expected to attend. But the Palestinians will be represented only by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as Hamas has not been invited. The Gaza activists fear that this will merely deepen the rift between the rival parties.

Several Arab countries that have pledged large sums for reconstruction have conditioned the donations on a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. For now, however, both the Fatah government in Ramallah and the Hamas government in Gaza have prepared their own plans and are demanding that international donors coordinate solely with them.

"The reconstruction of the Strip needs people from Gaza," noted one member of the new group, attorney Sharhabeil A-Za'im. "I can't think of anyone in Ramallah who could tell us what the reconstruction here should be."

He himself, like many other members of the group, has always been affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization, of which Fatah is the dominant faction. Hamas is not part of the PLO at all.

Another member of the group, economist Omar Sha'aban, termed it "a scandal that Ramallah has announced a Gaza reconstruction program without talking to us. The blood of the victims is still warm and the parties are already fighting over the [donated] money."

But the group realizes that Fatah-Hamas reconciliation alone is not enough for a successful reconstruction: A long-term truce with Israel and a reopening of Gaza's border crossings are also needed.

A-Za'im and Sha'aban, like many other members of the group, hope that the reconstruction effort can be leveraged into a tool for full-fledged reconciliation and formation of a Hamas-Fatah unity government. But even if this does not happen, they consider the steering committee they are proposing crucial to ensure that the reconstruction effort primarily serves the community rather than the government - for instance, that rebuilding houses and schools takes precedence over rebuilding government offices and prisons.