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Gazans: We Will Accept Nothing Short of End to Blockade
Palestinians in the central Gaza Strip release incendiary balloons toward Israel on August 25. (Nidal Alwaheidi/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Gazans: We Will Accept Nothing Short of End to Blockade

Mutual recriminations, threats weaken hopes for cease-fire between Hamas, Israel

Fears of a further escalation between Gaza and Israel have risen over the past few weeks, with the latter threatening targeted killings and Palestinian movements saying that “the equation has changed and we will no longer accept temporary formulas.”

Palestinians in the coastal enclave, who accuse the Israelis of failing to honor previous agreements, have since January 15 launched hundreds of incendiary balloons into Israel, causing widespread blazes. There have also been several rocket launches.

The Palestinians are seeking to compel Israel to fully lift the blockade it imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007, and to meet other demands.

In response, Israel has attacked Hamas targets, closed the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing as well as Gaza’s Mediterranean fishing zone, and halted the supply of diesel fuel, forcing the only power plant to cease operation.

Israel and Hamas have fought three brief wars since 2008. Most of the time, formulas have been reached to maintain fragile periods of calm. Yet Hamas and the other Palestinian movements in the Gaza Strip have made clear that they will no longer accept this and have raised their demands.

Previous Palestinian demands have included international relief projects, a proposed power line to transfer 120 megawatts of electricity from Israel, and the development of a desalination plant given that 97% of Gaza’s water is polluted.

The latest demands call for removing the blockade and facilitating the entry of ventilators and other medical supplies to help counter the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Nael Owdeh, a member of the Palestinian Joint Operations Room, which coordinates the military wings of the various movements in the Gaza Strip, says it is a new chapter in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“After the 2014 war, many understandings were reached [between the Palestinian and Israeli sides] aiming only to alleviate the suffering of Gaza’s residents, but this is no longer the case with the ongoing rounds of negotiations, whether conducted via international or Arab mediators,” Owdeh told The Media Line.

“Today,” he continued, “there is no talk about previous understandings and agreements. The demand is to entirely lift the blockade, as it is no longer acceptable for two million Gazans to remain imprisoned, especially after the outbreak of COVID-19 inside the strip,” he stated.

“This time, there is unanimity among the factions on the demands and on the response. We will not accept a continuation of the blockade, even if this means going to a military confrontation with the Israeli occupation,” Owdeh said.

This time, there is unanimity among the factions on the demands and on the response. We will not accept a continuation of the blockade, even if this means going to a military confrontation with the Israeli occupation

The escalation is taking place against the backdrop of intensive diplomatic efforts by the United Nations, Egyptian intelligence services – which so far have failed to achieve a settlement – and finally Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, Mohammed al-Emadi, who has been shuttling proposals and responses back and forth between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.

Emadi has been in the Gaza Strip to continue the talks with the Palestinian side and is expected to depart for Israel on Monday.

Political analyst Iyad Alqarra believes that any decision to ramp up hostilities will take several days at least.

“Going to a military escalation is very possible, but not right now,” he told The Media Line. “It might take at least to the end of the week or until we see the results of the Qatari mediation.”

Going to a military escalation is very possible, but not right now. It might take at least to the end of the week or until we see the results of the Qatari mediation

Israel, Alqarra explained, is not interested in an escalation.

“It is not for the Palestinians’ sake, but because it well knows that any [military] confrontation would bring [in its wake] further understandings that would, one way or another, force it to pay a heavy price,” he said.

“The Israeli occupation is keen to maintain the previous situation in the [Gaza] Strip [where things were relatively calm], but obviously, the Palestinian position is not to accept that scenario in addition to the burden of the pandemic,” he said.

A total of 214 COVID-19 cases have been identified in the coastal enclave thus far amid a shortage of ventilators, diagnostic kits and other medical supplies. Authorities have imposed strict measures, including three-week quarantines for arrivals from outside the area, as well as total lockdowns.

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