NABLUS, Palestinian Territories: At least 30 Palestinians were wounded in heavy clashes Tuesday as Israeli troops raided a house in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, two days after deadly fighting in Gaza was halted by a truce.
“Israeli army and special forces are surrounding the house of a wanted man in Nablus. There is exchange of fire,” the army said in a statement.
The brief weekend conflict over Gaza had a grimly familiar outcome: dozens of Palestinians killed, including militant leaders as well as children, and scores of homes damaged or destroyed, most by Israeli airstrikes but some from Palestinian misfires.
But one thing was different from the usual fighting: Hamas, the de facto civilian government in Gaza, remained on the sidelines. A smaller Islamist group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, took the lead in firing rockets — more than 1,000 of them — and bore the brunt of Israeli airstrikes, which began on Friday to pre-empt what Israel said was an imminent Islamic Jihad attack.
Though not unprecedented, Hamas’s decision confirmed the complex and shifting role that the movement has assumed since seizing control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. It also showcased the frictions among Palestinian Islamist militants about how best to fight Israel, and highlighted both the influence of Iran — which backs both Hamas and Islamic Jihad — and the limits of that support.
Hamas is still a military force that opposes Israel’s existence, and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States. But unlike Islamic Jihad, it is also a ruling administration and a social movement. Though authoritarian, Hamas is sensitive to public opinion in the enclave and must also deal, if only indirectly, with Israel to assuage the most restrictive aspects of a 15-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade that was enforced after the group took power and has decimated living conditions in Gaza.
By holding fire over the weekend, Hamas showed sensitivity to Palestinian fatigue at the prospect of yet another confrontation with Israel, at least the sixth during Hamas’s tenure. It also suggested that Hamas was wary of losing several small but significant economic measures that Israel has offered Gaza since the last major confrontation in May 2021, including 14,000 Israeli work permits that boosted the strip’s economy.
In a briefing for reporters on Monday, a senior Israeli official, speaking anonymously in order to discuss the issue more freely, said that the Israeli policy of offering more work permits over the past year had played a significant role in keeping Hamas away from this round of fighting. The official said this would encourage Israel to step up the approach in the future.
While no one expects the fundamental dynamics in Gaza to change, let alone the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some analysts, diplomats and officials hope that the perceived success of this trade-off will encourage Israel to ease more restrictions in the future, further reducing the likelihood of violence.
“Hamas doesn’t want war at this moment,” said Hugh Lovatt, an expert on Palestinian politics at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a research group. “There is a more pragmatic relationship between Hamas and Israel that has developed. To a certain extent, it might be mutual.”
Publicly, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have expressed solidarity with each other during and after the weekend conflict, and promised to join forces again in the future, much as they did during earlier rounds of fighting in 2008, 2014 and 2021.
Fundamentally, both groups have a similar goal and ideology. They have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamist movement, and seek an end to Israel and its replacement by an Islamic Palestinian state.
Muhammad al-Hindi, an Islamic Jihad official, told a Turkish broadcaster on Sunday that there was no rift between the two groups. “Our relationship with Hamas has gotten stronger and more solid,” Mr. al-Hindi said. “We entered battles together and we will enter battles side by side, together.”
In a statement posted on its website on Saturday, Hamas said it remained “united” with Islamic Jihad, adding that “the fighters of all factions are confronting this aggression as one.”
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But the two groups’ divergent behavior during the conflict reflects their differing current priorities as well as historical back stories.
Founded more than four decades ago, Islamic Jihad is older, smaller, and predominantly concerned with violent opposition to Israel. It has little interest even in participating in Palestinian political structures.
Hamas, formed in 1987, is comparatively more pragmatic — a social and political movement as well as a militant one.
It opposed efforts led by the Palestine Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinians, to seek a peace deal with Israel in the 1990s, mounting a lethal terrorism campaign to derail that process.
But Hamas nevertheless participates in Palestinian elections, winning the last legislative election, in 2006. It worked within unity governments in the Palestinian Authority, even after wresting Gaza from the authority’s control. And in recent years, it indicated a willingness to negotiate a long-term truce with Israel, while stopping short of recognizing its legitimacy.
“Ideologically they are not really much different — they both believe Israel has no right to exist in Palestine,” said Azzam Tamimi, an expert on political Islam and an academic affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. “But Hamas sees itself as a leader of society, not just a resistance movement.”
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad receive financial and logistical support from Iran. But their different approaches in recent days highlight how Islamic Jihad — whose leader, Ziad al-Nakhala, was visiting Tehran during the conflict — is more susceptible to Iranian influence than Hamas.
During the Syrian civil war, Islamic Jihad never broke with Iran’s close ally, Syria, despite the Syrian government’s war against rebels who were, like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, Sunni Islamists. Hamas, however, severed ties with Damascus a decade ago, in solidarity with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and only recently restored them.
“Islamic Jihad decided from the beginning that the Iranian revolution was a model, a beacon of some sort,” said Mr. Tamimi. Hamas, he added, “has always insisted that the relationship with Iran should be on the basis of cooperation not tied to any strings.”
Islamic Jihad’s battle with Israel could bolster its popularity among some Palestinians, but past polling suggests it could have the opposite effect in Gaza itself — particularly after some of the group’s rockets appeared to misfire and fell on civilian areas in the strip, video seemed to show. After a similar round of fighting in 2019, in which Hamas also stayed outside the fray, nearly half of Gazans felt Hamas was right to do so, and only a third disagreed.
Some Israelis hope that Hamas, trying to maintain favor in Gaza, will continue to stay out of future conflicts if given more economic incentives to do so.
“I want to speak directly to the residents of the Gaza Strip and tell them: There is another way,” the Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, said in a speech Monday evening. “We know how to protect ourselves from anyone who threatens us, but we also know how to provide employment, a livelihood and a life of dignity to those who wish to live by our side in peace.”
Yonatan Touval, an analyst at Mitvim, an Israeli research group, said the situation even presented “an opportunity for advancing far-reaching arrangements between the two sides — first and foremost those involving the rebuilding of Gaza.”
But few expect small economic gestures to fundamentally change Hamas’s broader outlook, particularly while the blockade remains in place. Israel’s granting of 14,000 work permits has boosted the incomes of thousands of families, but doesn’t alter the lives of the majority. In the crowded enclave of 2 million, nearly half of working age adults are unemployed and only one in 10 Gazans has access to clean water.
Rescuers walk in the rubble of a building following Israeli airstrikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 7, 2022, amid fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (Said Khatib/AFP)
The fighting began with Israel’s killing of a senior commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in a wave of strikes Friday that Israel said were meant to prevent an imminent attack.
So far, Hamas, the larger militant group that rules Gaza, appeared to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, keeping its intensity somewhat contained. Israel and Hamas fought a war barely a year ago, one of four major conflicts and several smaller battles over the last 15 years that exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
Whether Hamas continues to stay out of the fight likely depends in part on how much punishment Israel inflicts in Gaza as rocket fire steadily continues.
The Israeli military said an errant rocket fired by Palestinian militants killed civilians late Saturday, including children, in the town of Jabaliya, in northern Gaza. The military said it investigated the incident and concluded “without a doubt” that it was caused by a misfire on the part of Islamic Jihad. There was no official Palestinian comment on the incident.
A Palestinian medical worker, who was not authorized to brief media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the blast killed at least six people, including three children.
An airstrike in the southern city of Rafah destroyed a home and heavily damaged surrounding buildings. The Health Ministry said at least two people were killed and 32 wounded, including children. A teenage boy was recovered from the rubble, and the other slain individual was identified by his family as Ziad al-Mudalal, the son of an Islamic Jihad official.
The military said it targeted Khaled Mansour, Islamic Jihad’s commander for southern Gaza. Neither Israel nor the militant group said whether he was hit. The Civil Defense said responders were still sifting through the rubble and that a digger was being sent from Gaza City.
Another strike Saturday hit a car, killing a 75-year-old woman and wounding six other people.
In one of the strikes, fighter jets dropped two bombs on the house of an Islamic Jihad member after Israel warned people to evacuate the area. The blast flattened the two-story structure, leaving a large rubble-filled crater, and badly damaged surrounding homes.
Women and children rushed out of the area.
“Warned us? They warned us with rockets and we fled without taking anything,” said Huda Shamalakh, who lived next door. She said 15 people lived in the targeted home.
Among the 24 Palestinians killed were six children and two women, as well as the senior Islamic Jihad commander. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 200 people have been wounded. It does not differentiate between civilians and fighters. The Israeli military said Friday that early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed.
Throughout the day, Gaza militants regularly launched rounds of rockets into Israel. The Israeli military said Saturday evening that nearly 450 rockets had been fired, 350 of which made it into Israel, but almost all were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. Two people suffered minor shrapnel wounds.
One rocket barrage was fired toward Tel Aviv, setting off sirens that sent residents to shelters, but the rockets were either intercepted or fell into the sea, the military said.
Sunday could be a critical day in the flare-up, as Jews mark Tisha B’av, a somber day of fasting that commemorates the destruction of the biblical temples. Thousands are expected at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and Israeli media reported that the Israeli leadership was expected to allow lawmakers to visit a key hilltop holy site in the city that is a flashpoint for violence between Israelis and Palestinians.
Lapid, a centrist former TV host and author, has experience in diplomacy having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but has thin security credentials. A conflict with Gaza could burnish his standing and give him a boost as he faces off against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a security hawk who led the country during three of its four wars with Hamas.
Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%. Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover in 2007.
The latest round of Israel-Gaza violence was rooted in the arrest earlier this week of a senior Islamic Jihad leader in the occupied West Bank, part of a monthslong Israeli military operation.
Israel then closed roads around Gaza and sent reinforcements to the border, bracing for retaliation. On Friday, it killed Islamic Jihad’s commander for northern Gaza, Taiseer al-Jabari, in a strike on a Gaza City apartment building.
An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles.
Hamas seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew from the coastal strip. Its most recent war with Israel was in May 2021. Tensions soared again earlier this year following a wave of attacks inside Israel, near-daily military operations in the West Bank and tensions at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.
“In an initial response to the assassination of the leader Tayseer al-Jaabari, the Jerusalem Brigades bombarded Tel Aviv and the cities in the centre and around Gaza with more than 100 rockets,” said a statement from the group’s armed wing.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by James Mackenzie
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes Friday on Gaza, killing at least 10 people, including a senior militant, according to Palestinian officials. Israel said it targeted the Islamic Jihad militant group in response to an “imminent threat” following the recent arrest of another senior militant.
Hours later, Palestinian militants launched a barrage of rockets as air-raid sirens wailed in Israel and the two sides drew closer to another all-out war. Islamic Jihad claimed to have fired 100 rockets.
Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have fought four wars and several smaller battles over the last 15 years at a staggering cost to the territory’s 2 million Palestinian residents.
A blast was heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured out of the seventh floor of a tall building. Video released by Israel’s military showed the strikes blowing up three guard towers with suspected militants in them.
In a nationally televised speech, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said his country launched the attacks based on “concrete threats.”
He added that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from one either.”
The violence poses an early test for Lapid, who assumed the role of caretaker prime minister ahead of elections in November, when he hopes to keep the position. He has experience in diplomacy, having served as foreign minister in the outgoing government, but his security credentials are thin.
Hamas also faces a dilemma in deciding whether to join a new battle barely a year after the last war caused widespread devastation. There has been almost no reconstruction since then, and the isolated coastal territory is mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50%.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said a 5-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman were among those killed in Gaza, without differentiating between civilian and militant casualties. The Israeli military said early estimates were that around 15 fighters were killed. Dozens of people were wounded.
An Israeli military spokesman said the strikes were in response to an “imminent threat” from two militant squads armed with anti-tank missiles. The spokesman, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said al-Jabari was deliberately targeted and had been responsible for “multiple attacks” on Israel.
Hundreds marched in a funeral procession for him and others who were killed, with many mourners waving Palestinian and Islamic Jihad flags and calling for revenge.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many rockets were launched, and there was no immediate word on any casualties on the Israeli side.
Israel continued to strike other targets Friday, including weapon-production facilities and Islamic Jihad positions.
The U.N. special envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, said he was “deeply concerned.”
“The launching of rockets must cease immediately, and I call on all sides to avoid further escalation,” he said.
Following the initial Israeli strikes, a few hundred people gathered outside the morgue at Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital. Some went in to identify loved ones and emerged later in tears.
“May God take revenge against spies,” shouted one, referring to Palestinian informants who cooperate with Israel.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved an order to call up 25,000 reserve soldiers if needed while the military announced a “special situation” on the home front, with schools closed and limits placed on activities in communities within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of the border.
Israel closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a revenge attack after Monday’s arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, an Islamic Jihad leader, in a military raid in the occupied West Bank. A teenage member of the group was killed in a gunbattle between the Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.
Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, speaking to Al-Mayadeen TV network from Iran, said “fighters of the Palestinian resistance have to stand together to confront this aggression.” He said there would be “no red lines” and blamed the violence on Israel.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “the Israeli enemy, which started the escalation against Gaza and committed a new crime, must pay the price and bear full responsibility for it.”
Islamic Jihad is smaller than Hamas but largely shares its ideology. Both groups are opposed to Israel’s existence and have carried out scores of deadly attacks over the years, including the firing of rockets into Israel. It’s unclear how much control Hamas has over Islamic Jihad, and Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory since the Hamas takeover. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment.
Mohammed Abu Selmia, director of the Shifa hospital, said hospitals faced shortages after Israel imposed a full closure on Gaza earlier this week. He said there were enough supplies and essential drugs to sustain hospitals for five days in normal times, but that with a new round of fighting underway, “they may run out at any moment.”
Earlier Friday, a couple of hundred Israelis protested near the Gaza Strip to demand the return of the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.
The protesters were led by the family of Hadar Goldin, who along with Oron Shaul was killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas is still holding their remains, as well as two Israeli civilians who strayed into Gaza and are believed to be mentally ill, hoping to exchange them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
A picture taken after clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in the Old City of Nablus in the West Bank on July 24, 2022 (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Eight senior commanders of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups narrowly escaped an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Nablus late last month, according to a Wednesday report.
The terrorists saw the Yamam troops enter the building where they were meeting on a security camera. Eight of the ten zmanaged to escape, while the remaining two stayed behind, fought with the Israelis and were killed, the report said, citing a Palestinian source.
Police said troops had used gunfire and “other means” to “neutralize” the gunmen who were in and on top of the building. Footage of the home where the fighting took place showed heavy damage.
The Border Police said troops found “many weapons, firearms and explosive devices” in the house, and released an image of the confiscated items.
Weapon and weapon parts seized by troops in Nablus, July 24, 2022. (Border Police)
After the raid, Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that the targets were “terrorists who recently carried out a string of shooting attacks.”
The Channel 12 report said the raid highlighted the dangers for troops operating in the densely crowded old city of Nablus. The area is difficult to access, and there are many places for terrorists to hide, including in underground tunnels, which can put Israeli forces at risk.
Tensions are high in the West Bank, as Israeli security forces have stepped up operations following a deadly wave of terror attacks against Israelis that left 19 people dead earlier this year.
On Monday night, Israeli troops arrested the West Bank head of Islamic Jihad in Jenin, a West Bank city seen as a hotbed for terror activity. Bassem Saadi was taken in along with his son-in-law and aide, Ashraf al-Jada, and another member of the terror group was killed in a gun battle with troops.
In response to Saadi’s arrest, the Gaza-based group announced in a statement that it was declaring a state of “alertness” and raising its fighters’ “readiness.”
The military closed roads around the Gaza border due to fears of a reprisal attack. The roads remained closed on Thursday for the third day in a row. The IDF also bolstered its Gaza Gaza Division with 100 reservist troops and three conscript companies to assist in keeping civilians out of restricted areas under imminent threat by Islamic Jihad.
The IDF’s Southern Command and the air defense array were also on high alert for the possibility of rocket fire.
Israel has reportedly warned terror groups based in the enclave that it would respond forcefully to any revenge attack following the recent arrest of Saadi.
While Israel is focused on Iran, nuclear danger is rearing its head elsewhere
Experts warn that if Iran achieves its nuclear goal, Israel must prepare for the possibility of Pakistan providing Saudi Arabia with atomic warheads or the knowledge and means necessary to speedily create one on its own.
Far from the eye of the media, and perhaps even the focus of Israeli lawmakers – who are preoccupied with Iran, and rightfully so – a nuclear threat is developing much closer to home, with former senior defense and intelligence official warning of the political alliance between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
According to sources, in the event Iran achieves its nuclear goal, Israel must prepare for the possibility of Pakistan providing Saudi Arabia with atomic warheads or the knowledge and means necessary to speedily create one on its own.
Although a nuclear Saudi Arabia might not be a threat as great to Israel as Iran, the scenario in which Riyadh becomes a nuclear power is dangerous for several reasons. First, because it is an undemocratic country with a significant presence of elements with Islamist worldviews, and its government can change, with an anti-Israel one possibly rising in its wake, as has happened in other countries in the past, including Iran. Second, there is no guarantee that Riyadh’s interests will forever remain aligned with Israel. And third, such a move by Saudi Arabia will prompts other countries in the Middle East, such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey, to obtain atomic weapons of their own, turning the entire region into a nuclear powder keg.
In 2019, Yoel Gozansky, senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies and formerly head of the Iran and Persian Gulf department at Israel’s National Security Council, wrote an article on Saudi-Pakistani ties, saying it was “the only article written in Hebrew in recent years on the ties between the two countries, and this fact indicates the lack of sufficient attention to the issue in Israel.”
In his work, Gozhansky explains that the relationship between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is long-standing and extremely close, so much so that they were previously described by Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, who served as the head of Saudi intelligence, as one of the closest relationships that exists between two countries in the world.
The basis for such an alliance is mutual benefit. Pakistan is the second-most populous Muslim country in the world, with about 215 million, of which about 85% are Sunnis, which counters the influence of Shiite Iran. In turn, Saudi Arabia provides Pakistan with massive economic aid and investments worth billions of dollars and is given a central role in the safeguarding of holy Islam sites, as well as political influence in the Persian Gulf. Developing an “Islamic bomb” with Saudi funding, but on Pakistani soil, enables Riyadh to avoid international pressure. At the same time, Pakistan gains deterrence against arch-rival India.
“The close relationship between Riyadh and Islamabad is a vital strategic issue, which, unfortunately, is not very well-known in Israel,” Gozhansky told Israel Hayom. “Saudi Arabia has invested quite a bit of money in Pakistan, especially its nuclear program, and, of course, wants to receive something in return. In turn, Pakistan sees itself as the protector of Saudi Arabia and guardian of the holy Islam places, and over the years it’s made public statements making it clear it would stand by it in the face of external threats.”
“The two countries’ militaries train together and there is even an unofficial tradition in which senior members of the Pakistani army who take off their uniforms, including chiefs of staff, are invited to Saudi Arabia where they receive prestigious positions and live a life of luxury. This is a very complex relationship that has had some ups and downs – primarily against the backdrop of the Saudi disappointment with the limited Pakistani aid against the Houthi rebels in Yemen – but the bottom line is that it remains extremely deep even today.” Gozhansky concluded, “As such, the transfer of nuclear warheads from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia is a plausible scenario. This is not the only possibility, but the State of Israel must prepare for it and take it all into account. It worries me personally because we seem to only look to Iran and miss significant things along the way. Despite the warming ties, we must understand that not all of Saudi Arabia’s interests align with ours, and therefore Saudi nuclear preoccupation, most of which is hidden from view, should greatly worry Israel.”
JERUSALEM: The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility Monday for a deadly shooting that left an Israeli security guard dead at the entrance of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank last week. It was the first time Hamas has claimed such an attack targeting Israelis in the occupied West Bank since 2018. Friday evening’s attack was the latest in a long string of incidents in recent weeks. Tensions have mounted after deadly attacks on Israelis by Palestinian assailants, an Israeli military crackdown in the West Bank, and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site. The site contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who call it the Temple Mount because it is the location of the biblical Temples destroyed in antiquity. The site is a frequent flashpoint for tensions, and violence there last year helped spark an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza militants. “This is an episode in a series of responses by Al-Qassam Brigades to the aggression on Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Hamas’s armed wing said in a short statement. The claim of responsibility came a day after the Israeli army spokesperson told Kann public radio that two Palestinian suspects apprehended by the military did not belong to any militant group. Israel said Saturday that it had arrested two Palestinians suspected of carrying out the shooting that killed 23-year-old Vyacheslav Golev. On Sunday, Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip called for more attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, saying the “real battle arena is there.” In a speech, Yehiyeh Sinwar saluted the attackers who killed the guard.