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Al-Orjwan Shurrab

Concerns spread that tensions between Gaza and Israel may erupt into war

Gaza could be on the brink of war with Israel, yet again [AFP]

Date of publication: 5 February, 2018

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Violence between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas is close to reigniting, after a recent uptick in attacks and counter-attacks, reports Al-Orjwan Shurrab.
A lull in the exchange of rockets and missiles between Israeli forces and resistance factions in Gaza was never expected to last long. Both Israeli and Palestinian observers are speculating about a possible war, even though no one seems to want it. 

"Although neither Hamas nor Israel seeks an escalation, the Gaza rocket launches and Israeli retaliations makes the scenario of a coming war more likely," wrote Avi Issacharoff for the Israeli Walla website.

Israel targeted a tunnel under construction along the Gaza-Israel border on January 13 - much like the attack that began the escalation in late October. In that incident, 12 men affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad were killed when Israeli forces destroyed another tunnel. In response, rockets were fired into Israel by Islamic Jihad and Salafi factions, which operate independently of Hamas.

On Friday, an Israeli airstrike hit north of Beit Hanoun in Gaza, though no casualties were immediately reported. The airstrike was, Israeli officials said, in response to a rocket fired from Gaza, which also caused no damage.

While Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli minister of defence, told another Israeli newspaper he knows Hamas does not desire a new war, he declared his forces would attack three to four sites in the Gaza Strip for every rocket fired. 

Although neither Hamas nor Israel seeks an escalation, the Gaza rocket launches and Israeli retaliations makes the scenario of a coming war more likely
- Avi Issacharoff, Walla


"Israel is aware of the fact that Hamas is not responsible for the firing of rockets, but it is trying to force Hamas to enter a new confrontation," observed Saleh al-Naami, a Palestinian journalist and expert on Israeli affairs. "Israel uses rockets fired from Gaza to justify its bombardments of Qassam and Hamas positions in order to maintain its policy of deterrence." 

Al-Naami added that although Hamas is trying to avoid a confrontation, and thus preserve the ongoing attempt at reconciliation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA), it cannot control all of the parties involved. In part, this is because the PA now is responsible for Gaza under the fledgling unity government. In addition, he said, Hamas would pay a heavy price in internal support if it did not respond to Israeli bombardments.

Al-Naami believes Israel also is not ready for another war with Hamas, since it is preoccupied with Iran and protection of its northern border. The only parties that will benefit from this escalation, al-Naami concluded, are Palestinian factions who want to undermine the attempted reconciliation between the two main parties.

Speaking at the Herzliya conference in Israel in January, Gadi Eizenkot, chief of general staff for the Israeli military, called the escalation with Hamas irresponsible. He noted that the poverty of the two million residents of the Gaza Strip compares poorly with the notable prosperity in the Israeli settlements.

Violence

More than two dozen Gazans have suffered moderate to serious injuries from the most recent Israeli bombardments, and another three men were killed, according to the Ministry of Health. Since President Donald Trump's announcement of US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, 18 Palestinians have been killed in clashes in the West bank and along the Gaza border.

Two of the fatalities were Mahmoud al-Autl, 29, and Mohammed El-Safadi, 25 - fighters who were killed in an Israeli attack in the eastern Gaza Strip on December 9 in retaliation for a rocket launch that caused no injuries.

I'm a mother. I felt what he didn't say, and I was always afraid of losing him.


"Mahmoud never told us about his work with Al-Qassam Brigades [the military wing of Hamas]. But I'm a mother. I felt what he didn't say, and I was always afraid of losing him," al-Autl's mother said. "I never thought of preventing him from doing his duty toward this land. All mothers love their children, but if we prevent our children from protecting the land, who else will resist and free Palestine?"

Al-Autl graduated from university with a degree in education, but couldn't get a job in the field. Instead, the youngest son in a relatively poor family worked with his father to sell home appliances.

Although no one in his family claimed an affiliation to any political party, he joined Al-Qassam in 2009, working in a field control unit that maintains security for the Gaza border with Israel and works to prevent extremists from firing rockets. Al-Autl is survived by a wife and a son.

In contrast, Mohammed El-Safadi joined the Qassam Brigades to follow in the footsteps of his brother, who was killed in 2011. When he was accepted into the Qassam's field control unit after the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, it was the happiest moment in his life, several friends said.

"Mohammed loved us," Mohammed's sister, Farhana, said. "But several months before his death, I felt he was about to be killed, just as Mahmoud [his brother] was."

El-Safadi lived with his mother; his father died when he was young. He studied management in college and worked for three months for the government, but was not paid. He is survived by a wife and a one-year-old child.

Airstrikes

Hamas has had limited success in re-imposing restraint on small armed Salafist groups.

However, no one knows how long that will last. In addition, Adnan Abu Amer, another Gaza expert on Israeli affairs, believes Hamas may be forced into more direct acts of resistance as the people become tire of protesting the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital; to date, no change in that decision has occurred. Instead, Hamas may look to other tactics to keep the issue centre stage.

[click to enlarge]

Another concern, said Abu Amer, is that Hamas may begin to see a strategic advantage in allowing tensions with Israel to escalate.

As economic conditions continue to worsen in Gaza, making life more difficult for residents, politicians may try direct the people's anger at Israel instead of their struggling government.

As if anticipating an unwanted war, Israeli officials have said they are working to destroy all of the tunnels from Gaza by the end of 2018. Meanwhile, work continues on the "underground wall", separating Gaza from Israel - scheduled to effectively be complete by the end of this year. This means, however, that Israel won't want an escalation until it finishes.

Ultimately, though, said Abu Amer, everything is pointing in one direction - and while it may not be full-out war, it could look a lot like it.

Al-Orjwan Shurrab is a writer in the Gaza Strip for We Are Not Numbers and an English literature graduate.

 

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