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Tension Rising Between Israel and Gaza, as Talks With Hamas Reach Impasse
Palestinian workers clear the rubble of buildings leveled by Israeli bombing during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in May of this year, in Gaza City, July 27, 2021. (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Tension Rising Between Israel and Gaza, as Talks With Hamas Reach Impasse

Hamas official tells The Media Line that his group will ‘find ways to force the occupation to take the negotiations seriously’

Lack of progress in indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, under the auspices of Egypt, threatens the fragile calm along the border, a Hamas official tells The Media Line. Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip warn that unless Israel lifts the blockade on the Gaza Strip and allows building material for reconstruction to enter the coastal enclave it is risking an escalation in hostilities.

Six months after the end of the 11-day cross-border conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian factions blame Israel for the rising tension. The senior Hamas official told The Media Line that “we are running out of patience.”

He said that the Islamist movement’s leadership is looking at different options of how to respond to the impasse in talks on solidifying the cease-fire that, while fragile, has been holding since May.

Despite slivers of optimism at the beginning of the indirect negotiations, with Israel allowing some movement of building material, and expanding the Gaza fishing zone at times, the situation appears to be regressing to the point just prior to the start of the May hostilities.

“In light of the continuation of the siege on the Gaza Strip, the slowdown in reconstruction and the exacerbation of humanitarian crises, we have no choice but to find ways to force the occupation to take the negotiations seriously,” the Hamas source said.

Palestinians say that Israeli policies are to blame for the aggressive rhetoric, and that unless measurable advances are made within a week, they will “resort to other means to force the occupation to act immediately.”

In light of the continuation of the siege on the Gaza Strip, the slowdown in reconstruction and the exacerbation of humanitarian crises, we have no choice but to find ways to force the occupation to take the negotiations seriously

The conflict in May began with Hamas rockets fired from Gaza on Jerusalem. In the end, over 4,000 rockets were fired at Israel, mostly in the south of the country, but also including Tel Aviv and other areas of central Israel. Most were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system or landed in empty areas. Israeli strikes on Gaza destroyed 1,042 housing and commercial units in 258 buildings, and damaged another 769 units, as well as 53 schools and six hospitals.

Political analyst Talal Okal of the Institute for Palestine Studies told The Media Line that the Israeli side is to blame for the rising tensions.

“Hamas and the factions entered into indirect negotiations with the Israeli side in the framework of investing the results of the recent aggression. Israel wanted to achieve calm and to ensure that the factions would not be able to develop their military capabilities,” Okal said, adding: “[Israel] wanted to complete the prisoner exchange deal, but things were disrupted and didn’t go as planned.”

Israel wants Hamas to turn over the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014, as well as the repatriation of two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza in 2014 and have been held there since by Hamas.

The Hamas leader also criticized Egypt’s policies toward the strip, accusing Cairo of “stalling,” and saying that it has been reluctant to make good on its promises to Gaza.

After the conflict last May, Egypt brokered a truce between the two sides, promising $500 million to rebuild the devastated area, to increase the flow of goods and people through the Rafah crossing, and to connect Gaza to electricity, but Palestinians say none of that has been achieved.

Hamas has handed Egyptian officials a so-called position paper. In it, the Islamist movement outlines its demands, but Hamas officials claim that Cairo is purposefully postponing reconstruction projects in the coastal enclave.

Okal says it’s an unfair criticism of Cairo.

“Israel has procrastinated a lot, and the Egyptian side is embarrassed in front of this situation,” he said.

He says that Egypt is refraining from holding one party responsible for another, and that this is the policy of a mediator who wants to continue the mediation efforts and not burn any bridges.

“Even the aid that was promised is subject to the approval of the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United States,” explained Okal.

Israel has conditioned allowing aid in to Gaza on the return of the two Israeli civilians and the remains of the two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas.

Hamas rejects this approach.

Hasan Awwad, an expert on Palestinian affairs, told The Media Line that Hamas is in a bind since, he says, the group that governs Gaza isn’t interested in a full-fledged military operation against Israel, but the dire humanitarian crisis, and Gaza’s struggling economy, gives it no choice but to find ways to “shake things off.”

“I think we will see gradual escalation starting with incendiary balloons fired toward southern Israel and activating the night units that demonstrate along the border,” Awwad said.

He says Hamas must act due to the “continuation of the Israeli attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque and the confiscation of lands, and the tightening of measures against the prisoners. All these steps will spark a reaction that will explode the situation again.”

Okal says regarding the issues upon which Israel has taken decisions, such as giving work permits to 10,000 Gazan merchants or workers to work inside the country, “you find only a negligible number that has been approved. At sea, Israel gave an opportunity to fish at 12 nautical miles to the fishermen but continues to shoot them and their boats.”

He argues that “Israel is comfortable with the status quo.”

I think we will see gradual escalation starting with incendiary balloons fired toward southern Israel and activating the night units that demonstrate along the border

Okal says that based on how things are progressing, a “military confrontation is expected.”

“We cannot rule out another aggression on Gaza under the current circumstances,” he concluded.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is scheduled to travel to Cairo on Thursday for a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in talks that are expected to mainly deal with Gaza.

 

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