Hamas cracks down on Salafists in Gaza Strip

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: The confrontation between the Salafist jihadist movement and Hamas-led security services in the Gaza Strip has returned to the surface following a two-year truce between the two sides.

Strong tensions returned after security services arrested Salafist Sheikh Adnan Mayt, a prominent Salafist jihadist activist, April 6. This was followed by the arrest of other Salafists and raids of their homes, an April 29 statement by Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya (Arabic for “supporters of the Islamic State”) said.

The arrests increased following the two roadside bomb blasts that detonated in the Gaza Strip on April 18, which the Interior Ministry described as “primitive.” One of the blasts exploded near the outer wall of the UNRWA headquarters, and the other went off near the UNRWA general prosecutor’s office. A third explosion took place a day earlier near the Abu Mazen roundabout in western Gaza. [Continue reading…]

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In Gaza, rubble lies on top of rubble

Matthew Duss writes: Two weeks ago saw the latest blow to the on-again-but-mostly-off-again reconciliation between the two leading Palestinian political factions, Hamas and Fatah. A Fatah delegation from the West Bank entered Gaza for what was planned as a weeklong visit to address the sticky issue of payment to some 40,000 Hamas government employees, which was one of the main drivers of Hamas’ decision to accept a reconciliation agreement in April 2014, largely on Fatah’s terms. Instead, the Fatah delegation stayed only one day, departing after claiming that Hamas had prohibited it from traveling from their beachfront hotel to their offices. Hamas, for its part, responded that the makeup of the delegation had not been appropriately cleared in advance.

A few days later, as Israelis celebrated their Independence Day, the first rocket was fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip in four months. An Israeli tank barrage into Gaza followed shortly after.

It was not the first rocket launched since the August cease-fire that ended Operation Protective Edge, the summer of 2014’s hugely destructive Israeli assault on Gaza that lasted 52 days. Back in February, Hamas lobbed two rockets into the Mediterranean, ostensibly to test their launch system and intimidate Israel. Omar Shaban, a Palestinian analyst who runs the small think tank, PalThink, in Gaza, had a different interpretation. “They’re sending you a message,” he told me. “You should be wise enough to hear it.”

The message is that Gaza is creeping toward another explosion. It’s a depressingly similar pattern. Just like after previous conflicts, Israel’s cease-fire demands have been met. Hamas has prevented rocket fire, while the group’s demand for an end to the blockade that has suffocated Gaza for nearly a decade has not. Last month I visited the coastal strip to view the damage from the summer’s war, assess the state of reconstruction, and explore the possibilities of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

I’d last been to Gaza in February 2012. There have been two wars since then, in addition to a number of smaller incursions and exchanges of fire. In February 2012, much of Gaza City remained in rubble from December 2008-January 2009’s Operation Cast Lead. This time, there was rubble lying atop the rubble.

Shaban pulled up next to a huge pile of broken cinder block and twisted metal. “Here’s the Finance Ministry.”

Despite Hamas’ role in the escalation that led to the war, however, polls have shown that the group retains a significant measure of public support. One poll taken immediately after Operation Protective Edge found, for the first time since 2006, Hamas would best its rival Fatah in both presidential and parliamentary elections. Part of this has to do with Hamas being seen, unlike Fatah, as a party willing to fight the status quo. Part of it has to do with Hamas’ strategic distribution of resources to activists and supporters. But it’s also related to the fact that their civil servants are actually respected for the work that they continue to do in hugely difficult circumstances. [Continue reading…]

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Pro-ISIS group in Gaza says Hamas is ‘worse than Israel’

RFE/RL reports: Tensions are rising in Gaza between the Palestinian group Hamas and Jamaat Ansar al-Dawla al-Islamiya Fi Bayt al-Maqdis (The Supporters Of Islamic State In Jerusalem), a Salafist faction that considers itself loyal to the Islamic State (IS) group.

The flare-up was sparked on May 3 when Hamas destroyed a mosque belonging to the Supporters Of Islamic State In Jerusalem (SISJ) in the coastal enclave’s Deir al-Balah city.

SISJ responded to the demolition of the mosque by issuing a statement threatening to carry out actions against Hamas targets if the Palestinian group did not release several SISJ militants who were detained in Gaza last month. [Continue reading…]

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The parallels between Zionist and Palestinian militancy

The Times of Israel interviews Bruce Hoffman, author of Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle For Israel 1917-1947: Former Downing Street Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell negotiated with the IRA for nearly a decade under Tony Blair’s New Labour Government to bring about the Good Friday Agreement and peace to Northern Ireland. Hoffman cites Powell’s book, “Talking To Terrorists,” three times in his new work.

In conversation a year ago, Powell admitted that powerful Western governments throughout the 20th century — particularly the British — operated with appalling hypocrisy by initially claiming that men like Nelson Mandela, Martin McGuinness, and Menachem Begin were terrorists, then, in the blink of an eye, portraying these men as honorable statesmen and forgetting about past atrocities.

Crucially, Powell admitted, states use the word “terrorist” as a form of insult and to help hold the balance of power when certain dissident actors threaten their legitimacy. And if so-called terrorists are using violence for purposes governments like, well, they tend to skip over that, Powell said.

In recalling this conversation to Hoffman, he nods his head in agreement.

“Look, that is absolutely right,” he says. “Terrorism is resorted to for practical reasons because there is no other tool available. And those who use terrorism, and then subsequently become the targets of terrorism, understand its power and how difficult it is to counter it. Not just militarily. But especially in terms of international perception. And that’s where Begin really was a master strategist.”

Hoffman, like Powell, says he is not championing terrorism. But as a realist, he claims the point of his book is not to get bound up by moral judgments when speaking about the subject.

Given that Israeli politicians fundamentally understand how Jewish terrorism played such an effective role in helping bring about the State of Israel, is it naïve to think they might have more of a sympathetic understanding of why Palestinians currently use terrorism to try to achieve their political objectives?

“Well it’s far more simple than that,” Hoffman replies. “No country that is created where terrorism has played some role wants to admit it, for fear of that weapon being used against them. And that’s what is really at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [Continue reading…]

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Hamas warily eyes proposals for long-term truce with Israel

Adnan Abu Amer reports that international envoys visiting Gaza are in discussions with Hamas: The increased tempo of international proposals to extend the truce is coinciding with mounting warnings about a conflagration in Gaza caused by the continued siege, the lack of progress in reconciling with Fatah and the similarity in the security and on-the-ground conditions today, compared with those that preceded the last war in July 2014. Taher al-Nunu, Hamas’ media adviser, told Al-Monitor, “The proposals currently considered complement efforts to bolster the cease-fire with Israel. Hamas will present those proposals to all remaining factions, with whom we shall consult to adopt a unified stance.”

Israeli media outlets published details about the truce proposals on March 11, reporting that Israel and Hamas were considering achieving a 15-year cease-fire, during the first five years of which both sides would undertake to cease all military operations in exchange for lifting the siege and building sea and air ports in Gaza.

But Gaza’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad, one of Hamas’ most prominent negotiators with international envoys, told Al-Monitor, “No practical progress has been achieved with Western diplomatic sources visiting Gaza in relation to the sea and air ports dossier; because Israel refuses to hand Hamas a victory after the last battle.” [Continue reading…]

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In the rubble of Gaza, militias prepare for inevitable war with Israel

Bel Trew reports: The fighters in Gaza are preparing for a new war every day. It could come at any time: In the past few weeks, Israeli planes and drones have been increasingly circling the 26-square-mile coastal enclave. The Israel Defense Forces have repositioned troops at the eastern borders, an area almost entirely flattened during last summer’s 51-day war.

“The war could start any minute,” says Abu Mujahid. “There is a lot of kinetic movement, so all the fighting groups evacuated the bases, we’ve postponed training sessions, and many of the men have moved underground.”

“There are people right now under your feet,” his wiry second-in-command, Abu Saif, 28, adds with a toothless grin.

Gaza today is a powder keg waiting to explode. The key aspects of the cease-fire agreement that ended the war last summer remain unfulfilled — both Israel and Hamas feel that only more violence can force their enemy to assent to their demands. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of Gaza has stagnated due to Israeli restrictions on letting material into the territory, as well as the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah, sapping Gaza residents’ hope for a better future and leading them to believe that there is no alternative but armed struggle. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas reacts to potential Egyptian attack

Adnan Abu Amer writes: Hamas never imagined that it would be classified as a terrorist movement by an Arab country — a classification that has dangerous political, media and perhaps military repercussions.

However, Egypt’s Court of Urgent Matters declared Hamas a terrorist organization on Feb. 28 against the backdrop of the proven movement’s implication in armed operations that claimed the lives of Egyptian officers and soldiers in Sinai Peninsula, after its members seeped through the tunnels into Egypt.

Why is this decision dangerous? Egypt is considered the only leeway for Gaza where Hamas is in control. Egypt’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization implies that all efforts are being made to cut off its arms supplies and funding by all means necessary. Moreover, whoever cooperates with Hamas is considered a criminal by law, according to a statement on March 4 by Egypt’s Minister of Justice Mahfouz Saber. The law stipulates seizing Hamas properties, arresting all its affiliated members and confiscating their funds and locations. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s plight grows worse

The Washington Post reports: In almost every way, the Gaza Strip is much worse off now than before last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas. Scenes of misery are one of the few things in abundance in the battered coastal enclave.

Reconstruction of the tens of thousands homes damaged and destroyed in the hostilities has barely begun, almost six months after the cease-fire. At current rates, it will take decades to rebuild what was destroyed.

The economy is in deep recession; pledges of billions in aid have not been honored; and the Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the enclave, refuses to loosen its grip and is preparing again for war.

Diplomats, aid workers and residents warn of a looming humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence.

“After every war, we say it cannot get worse, but I will say this time is the worst ever,” said Omar Shaban, a respected Gaza economist. “There is no sign of life. Trade. Import. Export. Reconstruction. Aid? Dead. I’m not exaggerating when I tell my friends abroad: Gaza could collapse, maybe soon.” [Continue reading…]

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Israeli center-left Zionist Camp leader accuses Netanyahu of not hitting Hamas hard enough

Ynet: Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog – currently the main contender to replace Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister – took aim at the hawkish leader’s security policy, blasting him for being weak on Hamas, the terror group ruling Gaza with which Israel locked horns in a 50-day war over the summer.

“For years Hamas has been tunneling under our communities near the Gaza border. And what did you do? You waited, stalled and hesitated,” Herzog said in a new video.

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Gaza suffers in growing isolation

Zvi Bar’el reports: “What do they give us here? Three pitas and a little food; it’s not enough even for a small child,” Alaa Kullab complained to the Palestinian news agency Safa. He said his eight-person family, which has been living in a school in Rafah ever since this summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, received only five beds.

“We have no heaters, and we’re forbidden to use hotplates,” added Kullab, who began a hunger strike along with another resident of the school a few days ago.

More than 20,000 of the 450,000 people displaced by the war still live in schools or other shelters arranged by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Last month, UNRWA announced that it would no longer pay displaced families’ rent or fund reconstruction of their houses, because it was out of money, having received only $135 million of the $725 million it needs.

“People come to our offices crying and threatening, but we have no way to help them,” an UNRWA employee told Haaretz. “Children are freezing cold, they suffer from malnutrition and even the little food they get is unsuitable.”

Next week, cleaning workers at Gaza’s hospitals are expected to strike again, since the Palestinian government hasn’t produced the back pay it promised to persuade them to end the last 16-day strike. Some 45,000 government employees in Gaza have yet to receive their January salaries, and they may get only 60 percent, as they did last month, because Israel has frozen tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority. The PA says the transfers amount to over half the costs of these salaries.

In October, a donor conference netted pledges of $5.4 billion for Gaza’s reconstruction, but only about 2 percent of this amount has arrived. Both the reconstruction and the reopening of the border crossings, especially with Egypt, depend on implementing a reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, but due to disputes between the rival organizations, this still has not happened. [Continue reading…]

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Threat of violence silences Palestinian journalists

Asmaa al-Ghoul writes: How loud is the voice you hear when you sit down to write a press report? How small is the prison cell you imagine yourself ending up in once you publish your article? The man you imagine pointing a gun at your head, is he wearing a mask? These are thoughts that lead one to delete the most important and powerful piece of information from an article. Some thoughts even lead you to delete the article entirely.

A late 2014 study by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms found that 80% of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza practice self-censorship of their writing.

Journalist Ghazi Bani Odeh, who conducted the survey, “The Official Media and Freedom of Expression,” told Al-Monitor that attacks and harassment, and thus fear of them, are the main causes leading journalists to censor themselves. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt court bans Hamas’ armed wing, designates as ‘terrorist organisation’

Middle East Eye: Palestinian faction Hamas on Saturday slammed a decision by an Egyptian court to designate its military arm, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a “terrorist organisation”.

“This is a dangerous decision that only serves the best interests of Israel,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told the Anadolu Agency.

He described the court verdict as “politically motivated”, reiterating that his movement does not interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.

Earlier on Saturday, an Egyptian court declared the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades a “terrorist organization”.

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Hamas condemns Charlie Hebdo attack

AFP reports: Palestinian Islamist group Hamas condemned Saturday the killing of 12 people in a shooting attack this week on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo’s offices by two French Islamists.

A statement in French said Hamas “condemns the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists on the fact that differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.”

It also rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments, in which he compared the Paris attack to Hamas firing rockets from the Gaza Strip at civilians in Israel.

“Hamas condemns the desperate attempts by… Netanyahu to make a connection between our movement and the resistance of our people on the one hand and global terrorism on the other,” it said.

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Now I understand how and why the Palestinians lost Palestine

Ghazi Hamad, deputy foreign minister of Hamas, recently wrote an op-ed in Arabic appearing on Arabic websites and which has now been translated into English and published with his permission by the Times of Israel: I was very hesitant before I wrote this “harsh” title. I erased it time after time and rewrote it. But every time I reread the article, the title jumps to my mind and drags me towards it.

The title hit me while I was attending a meeting of some political powers. I was listening to them talk for more than three hours and it seemed futile, lost, insipid.

It was not the first meeting I left feeling aggravated. I had previously taken part in discussions, be it bilateral between Hamas and Fatah or “national” dialogue that brings everyone together. I attended tens of conferences, seminars and workshops for “brainstorming.” But this time a profound sadness overcame me and feelings began to consume me. What are they saying? What are they doing? What time are they wasting? What world are they living in? Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind, unbidden: Now do you understand why Palestine is lost?

It was dangerous, frightening and scary. I no longer have any doubt that these sterile seminars and workshops that were repeated a thousand times, were nothing but blabbering, rumination of the past and fleeing from facing the facts.

I recalled many of these summits, agreements and understandings that have been signed since 1993 until the Shati Agreement in 2014… they passed in a moment and disappeared.

It seemed to me that we had lost dozens of years in haggling, disagreements and differences over texts that did not bring us anything but more resentment and fragmented, failed solutions. And because of the devolvement of these issues, I look at where we have arrived after a twenty year political process of failure and searching for success on paper, and I look at the state of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in terms of its weakness and attenuation, and I look at the political and societal division and how our divisions have sharpened until it became an indispensable tradition?

What calamity did the Palestinians create by themselves for themselves?

We have always held the Arab regimes responsible for the loss of Palestine, which is an indisputable matter, and have equally faulted the Western regimes for their collusion and unlimited support for Israel… But what is our share in bearing responsibility? [Continue reading…]

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Hamas leader Mashaal endorses Turkish leaders in surprise speech

Hurriyet Daily News reports: Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, has made a surprise appearance at an event of Turkey’s ruling party, endorsing the Turkish leaders and voicing his hope to “liberate Palestine and Jerusalem” together with them in the future.

“A strong Turkey means a strong Palestine … Inshallah, God is with us and with you on the road to victory,” Mashaal said in his address to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) annual congress in the Konya province on Dec. 27.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, whose hometown is Konya, personally presented Mashaal to the audience. “Konya, the city of heroes! You give birth to your leaders,” Mashaal said, congratulating the Turkish people “for having Davutoğlu and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.”

Mashaal’s brief speech was interrupted by slogans including “God is great” and “Down with Israel” several times by AKP supporters in the sports hall who waved Turkish and Palestinian flags. [Continue reading…]

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Hamas said concerned by Egypt-Qatar thaw

The Times of Israel reports: Hamas fears its ties with Qatar will be hindered by the reported reconciliation efforts between Doha and Egypt, London-based Arab paper Rai al-Youm reported Saturday, according to Israel Radio.

According to the report, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who has been hosted by Qatar since leaving war-torn Syria in 2012, has reached out to Qatari leaders to receive clarifications on the matter, and has been assured that the amended ties with Cairo would not affect Doha’s relations with Hamas. [Continue reading…]

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EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list

BBC News reports: A top court of the European Union has annulled the bloc’s decision to keep the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on a list of terrorist groups.

The decision had been based not on an examination of Hamas’ actions, but on “factual imputations derived from the press and the internet”, judges found.

The court said the move was technical and was not a reassessment of Hamas’ classification as a terrorist group.

It said a funding freeze on the group would continue for the time being. [Continue reading…]

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Abbas backs Egypt crackdown on Gaza tunnels

AFP reports: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he supported Egypt’s crackdown on tunnels linking the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to the Sinai Peninsula and any other action the country took to protect itself from militants, according to a media report Thursday.

“We have supported all the precautionary measures taken by the Egyptian authorities to close the tunnels and stop the trafficking of arms and the passage of people between Gaza and the Sinai,” Abbas said in an interview with Egyptian magazine Al-Ahram Al-Arabi due to be published on Saturday, extracts of which were published by MENA news agency.

“We will continue to support any measure protecting Egypt from danger,” Abbas was quoted as saying. [Continue reading…]

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