November 3, 2020
[Gaza — The Media Line] There is growing tension and concern of a new escalation of violence between Hamas in Gaza and Israel after the deadline given by Hamas two months ago requiring Israel to fulfill Palestinian demands as part of a truce passed on Sunday.
In late August, Egyptian and Qatari negotiators succeeded in reaching a conditional truce agreement between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, ending a round of violence that began in early August in protest of harsh conditions on Gaza.
As part of the understandings, Hamas agreed to suspend its border attacks in exchange for Israel allowing an increase in financial support to the Strip provided by Qatar in the form of humanitarian aid, in addition to implementing projects aimed at reducing the unemployment rate and solving the problem of frequent power cuts.
Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said in a statement on Wednesday that “the occupation insists on maintaining the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, isolating Palestinian people in the West Bank, continuing the Judaization of Jerusalem, and building settlements.”
Al-Hayya confirmed that his movement “will no longer endure the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip,” signaling the possibility of a further escalation in violence.
A similar concern has been reported in Israeli media, including a report in the daily Haaretz, which quoted defense officials as being concerned about a “possible escalation in tensions with the Gaza Strip in the near future, perhaps even as early as the US presidential election on Tuesday.”
The Haaretz report noted that “Hamas is also frustrated at the slow pace of Israel’s implementation of steps it had agreed to in understandings achieved through Egyptian mediation. According to these understandings, Israel was to have lifted restrictions holding up Gaza infrastructure projects.”
“So far, Israel has not eased these restrictions,” Haaretz reported.
“Again, the Israeli occupation is trying to retract from all commitments aiming at mitigating the catastrophic conditions of the Strip especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and with the huge numbers of infected cases and the collapse of the [Gaza] health system.”
Nael Abuowdeh, Gaza-based head of the political bureau of the Almujahideen Palestinian movement, told The Media Line that “again, the Israeli occupation is trying to retract from all commitments aiming at mitigating the catastrophic conditions of the Strip especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and with the huge numbers of infected cases and the collapse of the [Gaza] health system.”
Abuowdeh continued: “Given such procrastination, the public resistance sent several messages, 20 days ago, by launching waves of incendiary balloons toward the border areas to tell the occupation that we will not accept further prevarication nor imposing a new equation.”
“We are waiting for the green light from the higher leadership that if Israel continues to ignore our demands, violent escalation will be inevitable. All units will be on full alert and we will start firing incendiary balloons toward the border areas of the enclave.”
Abu Malek, the spokesperson of Ahfad Al-Nasser, the incendiary balloons unit in Gaza, told The Media Line that “we are in the process of preparing for the next stage.”
He added: “We are waiting for the green light from the higher leadership that if Israel continues to ignore our demands, violent escalation will be inevitable. All units will be on full alert and we will start firing incendiary balloons toward the border areas of the enclave.”
With the challenge of the coming winter’s rainy weather, Abu Malek said that the unit will use new firing methods, such as an explosive charge that has the effect of a rocket.
Abuowdeh suggested that there will be a dramatic and gradual escalation of public resistance activities beginning with launching balloons and up to a “military confrontation with the Israeli occupation.”
Most of the current indications support that theory; however, some observers are more optimistic.
“Everyone, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, is waiting for the results of the US presidential election.”
Mkhaimar Abusada, associate professor of political sciences at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, believes that none of the parties is concerned about an escalation, for several reasons.
“First of all, everyone, including Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, is waiting for the results of the US presidential election … and none is concerned with provoking tension until things get sorted out,” Abusada told The Media Line.
He continued: “Israel has fulfilled some of the demands regarding providing facilitation over the past two months. It allowed fishermen to work within 15 nautical miles, and the Kerem Shalom crossing border remained open, allowing the entrance of more goods.”
For Abusada, lifting the Israeli blockade and fulfilling Palestinian demands is closely tied to achieving progress in a prisoner swap deal between the two sides, which is unlikely to happen now.
Hamas has held two Israeli civilians in Gaza for five years, and is also believed to be holding the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war.
“There is a strong pressure by the right and by the soldiers’ families on [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu to halt any facilitation for Hamas in order to reach a swap deal. However, the process is taking place at a very slow pace,” Abusada said.