Israel-Gaza Violence Continues, with UN Envoy in Cairo to Mediate (includes AUDIO INTERVIEWS)
Analysts see Hamas staying out of fight between Israel, Islamic Jihad
Israeli warplanes struck Islamic Jihad positions in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday as hundreds of rockets rained down on Israel’s southern communities.
All of it came in the aftermath of the killing by Israel of a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, and his wife. At least 24 Palestinians have been killed since the violence began, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
One rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a home in the city of Ashkelon. Air raid sirens sounded throughout the day, sending tens of thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed to continue “hitting hard Islamic Jihad. We will not tolerate attacks on our citizens.”
Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Barayem told The Media Line that his group was not ready for a ceasefire.
“Israel is targeting civilians, and the resistance is committed to responding and protecting its people as long as the Israeli aggression continues,” he said.
“The occupation started the whole situation,” Barayem continued. “Human and political logic say that the aggression stops first, and then we can discuss a possibility for mediators to talk about stopping the rockets.”
Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, is in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on finding a way to stop the fighting.
“The UN is working to urgently de-escalate the situation,” Mladenov said in a statement.
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, head of the Department of Political Science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, told The Media Line that so far, it has all been for naught.
“All efforts by Egypt and the UN have failed, and we expect this conflict will continue for days,” he said.
“Egypt is blaming the Israelis for this current cycle of violence, and for breaking the fragile truce between Israel and the Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza,” he said. “Islamic Jihad has insisted that Israel must be punished, that Netanyahu must be punished for this latest crime against Islamic Jihad.”
Ronni Shaked, of the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the most notable aspect of the conflict was the matter of blame.
“There is nothing new about the latest round of violence except for one thing: Israel usually holds Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, responsible for all rockets coming from there. This time, that is not the case,” he said. “This is the first time since Gaza was conquered by Hamas that Israel is fighting against just one of the terror organizations – Islamic Jihad. Israel is making a lot of effort not to fight Hamas.”
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Shaked added that Hamas’s military wing had yet to order its members to retaliate against Israel, a sign of pragmatism.
“I think Hamas, as an organization and as the leader of the people of Gaza, understands that if they are going to start any kind of fighting against Israel, [it] is going to harm Hamas. They know that the balance of power is in favor of Israel. If they aggravate Israel, it will bring an end to Hamas.”
Shaked added that Hamas “feels isolated,” and that the economic situation in the Gaza Strip has “forced it” to try to keep the calm.
“Hamas wants to be the ruler of Gaza; it wants to govern,” he explained. “Hamas understands [that] if there is open war, especially now with the election in Israel and the competition between [Blue and White leader Benny] Gantz and Netanyahu about their policies on Gaza, it’s going to be disastrous for Hamas. Therefore, Hamas decided this time to stay quiet.”
Yet Abdl Allateef Qnou, Hamas’s spokesperson in the Gaza Strip, told The Media Line that his organization, as well as all factions in the enclave, were taking part.
“The battle against the Israeli occupation is led by the Palestinian resistance, which Hamas is part of, and the resistance that we are part of is responding in accordance to what’s being discussed in [a] joint operations room,” he said.
Abu Saada, however, takes issue with that.
Hamas, he said, “doesn’t want to see things get out of hand. Hamas is aware of the fact that any participation from Hamas in this current cycle of violence will provoke Israel into a wider conflict which will inflict heavy casualties and heavy destruction on the two million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip…. Hamas knows that this current Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip plays into the hands of Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges in Israel and has failed to form a new government.” (Listen to full interview below.)
Shaked insists that Tuesday’s targeted killing of Islamic Jihad’s top military leader in the Gaza Strip was not a political ploy.
“During the last two weeks, Israel felt it was time to do something to stop rockets [from coming] into Israel,” he explained. “Indeed, we heard from some Israeli government ministers just today that they started to talk about the fight against Abu al-Ata seven to eight months ago – which means it was on the table, and the army chief of staff and the head of the Israeli security services had permission to do it whenever the opportunity presented itself.” (Listen to full interview below.)
Interview with Ronni Shaked
Interview with Mukhaimer Abu Saada