Israel conveyed warnings to Hamas in the Gaza Strip through an Egyptian mediator against escalating the situation on the border during the Israeli election period. But Hamas is continuing to give the “green light” to attacks on Israel.
On Jan. 6, a drone bearing a large explosive charge and a huge bouquet of balloons was dispatched towards the Gaza perimeter and landed inside Israeli territory. The explosives were neutralized by Israel Defense Forces’ sappers; in response, the IDF attacked two Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip.
The war room shared by all of the Palestinian organizations gathered on Jan. 6 in Gaza and in response to the IDF attack fired a rocket early in the morning of Jan. 7 towards the city of Ashkelon. The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile-defense system.
The IDF reacted that morning with attacks on Hamas terror targets in the organization’s military camp in Beit Lahia in the northern part of Gaza.
It appears that Hamas is again trying to impose new rules of the game upon Israel including rocket fire every time Israel attacks Gaza in response to violations of the understandings for calm that were achieved through Egypt.
In Israel, the dispatch of the booby-trapped model aircraft into Israeli territory is viewed as an extremely serious incident and a clear violation of the understandings for calm. It is believed that this model airplane could not have been sent into Israel from the Gaza Strip without the authorization of Hamas, which is the ruling power in Gaza.
Escalation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas
At the same time as the escalation on the border comes considerable tension between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza. On Jan. 4, unknown assailants broke into the offices of the Palestinian television station in Gaza City belonging to the Palestinian Authority and damaged equipment worth $150,000. Fatah accused Hamas of perpetrating this act; Hamas’s interior ministry claims that it has arrested five suspects. According to Hamas, they are P.A. employees who are angry because they have not yet received their wages.
P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas is currently in Egypt, where he is dealing with the escalation with Hamas. Despite his meeting with Egyptian President Fattah El-Sisi, matters have not settled down. According to a report in the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, Abbas informed the Egyptian president of his intention to impose further sanctions on Gaza that would prevent the transfer of Qatari funds to Gaza and halt the transfer of monthly financial aid to the tune of $96 million.
In a speech that Mahmoud Abbas delivered on January 1, 2019 in honor of the establishment of “Fatah Day,” he referred to Hamas and the operatives of his bitter rival Mohammed Dahlan as “spies (for Israel).”
Fatah has announced the cancellation of a big rally scheduled for Jan. 7 in the center of Gaza City to mark 54 years since the movement’s establishment due to fears of large clashes with Hamas security forces that would lead to much bloodshed.
During the previous week, Hamas security forces apprehended hundreds of Fatah activists in Gaza in “preventive arrests” in an attempt to torpedo the rally.
Serious disputes ensued among the Fatah leadership in Gaza over whether to hold the rally or to cancel it. The P.A. exerted pressure from Ramallah to hold the rally “at any cost” to show that Fatah has power in the Gaza Strip. However, in the end, a decision was made to “postpone” the rally to another time.
On Jan. 6, the P.A. announced the removal of all of its officers from the Rafah crossing into Egypt. These officers were deployed in the area as part of reconciliation understandings between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas is concerned that this move will lead to the closing of the crossing because Egypt is not prepared for Hamas to maintain the crossing on its own.
Hamas published a notice condemning the decision to remove the officers from the Rafah crossing, describing this move as “a blow to Egypt’s reconciliation efforts and the implementation of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” as part of the plan to cut off the Gaza Strip from the West Bank.”
According to senior sources in the P.A., Abbas intends to impose further sanctions on Gaza after instructing to dissolve the Legislative Council (Parliament), which is ruled by a two-thirds majority of Hamas.
Senior Fatah official Hussein al-Sheikh announced that the P.A. is taking administrative, financial and political steps against Hamas to put pressure on it and ease the situation of Fatah operatives in Gaza.
At the same time as the tensions in Gaza, P.A. security forces have arrested dozens of Hamas activists in the West Bank, including students and former political prisoners, in order to prevent the organization of demonstrations against the Palestinian Authority and its leader.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.