Not only is Hamas losing its latest battle with Israel, it may also be losing its popular support, according to a recent poll and interviews with war-weary Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.
The U.S.-recognized terrorist group, which has governed Gaza since 2007, has refused several attempts by international mediators to establish a cease fire since Israel began a ground invasion of the densely-populated strip on July 18. Israel, which on Friday rejected a cease fire proposal offered by U.S. Secetary of State John Kerry, says it launched Operation Protective Edge to stop the daily barrage of rockets fired into the Jewish state and to destroy the labyrinth of tunnels used by operatives to sneak in and out of Israel, carrying out acts of terrorism.
But as the body count mounts under superior Israeli firepower, many Gazans are turning on Hamas. A Washington Institute study released this week which surveyed 450 people in Gaza found 70 percent support better relations with Israel. While the poll was conducted two weeks prior to Israel's operation, some Gazans say those feelings have solidified in the wake of the ongoing destruction of their territory.
“We want to see the war stop," Mohammad Hassounah told FoxNews.com from a hospital in Khan Yunis, a city in the southern part of the Gazan strip, where his young daughter was receiving treatment after inhaling rocket smoke. "We want a cease fire at any cost.”
Like 30-year-old political activist Hassounah, many of the residents of Gaza are paying a heavy price for the 18-day conflict between Hamas and Israel. He said the stench of death from more than 800 people killed in the Israeli onslaught has turned city streets into graveyards.
“You need to understand that Palestinian blood has been shed by Hamas itself," a 28-year old journalist who asked not to be identified told FoxNews.com. "Living under Hamas is a tragedy.”
Since Israel's operation began Hamas has fired more than 2,300 rockets at Israel, including one that struck near enough to Ben Gurion Airport to prompt a 48-hour ban on most international flights in and out. While the rocket attacks have been largely neutralized by Israel's Iron Dome defense system, the incursion into the Palestinian enclave has left an estimated 140,000 Gazans displaced.
“Nobody can forgive Hamas for what they’re doing," the journalist said. "No one can forgive Hamas for butchering Palestinians to get power. Most Gazans hate Hamas with a passion."
There is fear of speaking out against Hamas, which is why many have stayed quiet until now, according to the source, an editor at a local Gazan media outlet.
“The only reason Hamas rules Gaza is because of its ruthless iron fist and military dictatorship," he said. "We would love to have an independence from both Fatah and Hamas, who are profiting off the Palestinian people. We need to rule ourselves.”
The Washington Institute poll found that more than 70 percent of respondents said non-violent resistance had a “positive impact” and that they want Israel to open up its borders so they could go there to work.
“The study is quite telling," the Institute's David Pollack, who conducted the survey, told FoxNews.com. "The Gazans want jobs and practical things. They don’t want war and don’t support Hamas ideology.
“And with so many Palestinians actually saying they want peace and support an immediate cease fire, it means Hamas is imposing this war against Israel on its own people,” Pollack said.
While Gazans' anger at Israel has almost certainly grown amid the Israeli incursion, which has seen the destruction of schools and hospitals, where Israel claims Hamas has hidden rockets, resentment toward Hamas surfaced in local reports this week after Hamas' Qatar-based leader Khaled Mashaal refused to agree to a cease fire absent a lifting of blockades and a release of political prisoners.
“The conditions he put means there will never be an end to this war,” said Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian politician, said from his home in the West Bank. “Gazans were cursing him out on social media and elsewhere when he said that.”
According to Zahran, Hamas has never been so unpopular in Gaza, although in the West Bank, where Palestinians are “not in the line of fire,” many may hail Mashaal as a hero.
“No normal human being can watch what’s going on and still support Hamas. I beg the Israeli army to understand that Hamas uses civilians, while their own leaders (like Mashaal) are hiding in Qatar.”