The Guardian reports: The Israeli military has launched dozens of strikes on Gaza in an unusually strong response to a rocket fired from Gaza that landed between two houses in the Israeli community of Sderot.
Responsibility for the rocket attack on Sunday was initially claimed by Ahfad al-Sahaba, one of the small Salafi groups – ultra-conservative Sunnis – that have recently become more active in Gaza, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. It prompted a wave of up to 50 retaliatory attacks, according to Israeli military sources, hitting several of Gaza’s armed Palestinian factions.
A security source said raids targeted Hamas’s Izzedin Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s Quds Brigades and the PFLP. Artillery shells also hit the area of al-Bureij in central Gaza and Beit Hanoun in the north. Several Palestinians, including a 17-year-old boy, were reportedly wounded.
The raids broke the pattern of limited Israeli retaliation during periods of relative quiet, leading the Islamist group Hamas to accuse Israel of escalating tensions. According to reports, the Israeli response came in two waves, the first immediately after the rocket attack, the second during the night, involving three Israeli jets and tank fire. [Continue reading…]
Shane Harris writes: Israel ended its last military operation in Gaza almost two years ago. But among some Israeli military officials, national security experts, and activists here, there is a palpable sense that another war is imminent, and that soon Hamas rockets will again be raining down on Israeli cities, prompting a crushing military response on the beleaguered, 25-mile long strip.
The signs, to hear these people tell it, are plain to see: Despite Israeli efforts to increase the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, its economic health remains desperate. Hamas militants also may be under pressure to move now to strike Israeli neighborhoods along the Gaza border before a network of tunnels that gave them free entry into Israel is sealed up. Recent Israeli intelligence suggests that Hamas fighters have closely studied Israeli tactics from the last war, possibly in preparation for another conflict. And Israel’s new defense minister, sworn in this week, has threatened to assassinate the leader of Hamas, in turn prompting him to dare Israel to enter Gaza again.
“The feeling is now we’re on a countdown. There’s going to be another war,” said Sharon Stav, with the Movement for the Future of the Western Negev, an activist group whose members live in neighborhoods along the Gaza border and have been pressuring the Israeli government to find some diplomatic or humanitarian solution to the conflict with Hamas — anything short of another war. Stav and a colleague met with a delegation of U.S. and European visitors, which I joined, in the town of Netiv HaAsara, which came under daily rocket fire during the 2014 Gaza operations. The house where we met sits just feet from a guarded security barrier — a combination of concrete barricades and barbed wire fences — that seals Gaza off from Israel, at least above ground. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The young man accused of being the first suicide bomber in Jerusalem in a decade doesn’t fit the profile of a desperate Hamas operative — and that worries the Israelis.
His uncles are prosperous merchants. He did not grow up in a refugee camp. He went on shopping trips to Jordan.
But the cover photo on his Facebook page includes the image of Yahya Ayyash, a.k.a. “The Engineer,” the chief bombmaker for Hamas, who likely was killed by an exploding mobile phone planted by Israeli agents in 1996.
On Monday afternoon, 19-year-old Abdel Hamid Abu Srour boarded the Egged No. 12 bus and placed a package between his legs. His uncles think that it might have been his first visit to Jerusalem.
His seat was above the vehicle’s gas tanks, according to Israeli news media. His relatives scoffed at the idea that Abu Srour would know how to make a bomb himself.
His high school grades were poor enough that he wanted to retake subjects and redo his exams.
Who gave him the bomb and how it was detonated is the object of a fast-moving investigation.
Hamas claimed that Abu Srour was a member of the Islamist militant movement, although the Gaza-based terrorist group did not assert direct responsibility for the bombing.
Israeli police announced Thursday that they had arrested several members of a Hamas cell in Bethlehem tied to the case. [Continue reading…]
The Times of Israel reports: One mystery is solved. The identity of a man severely wounded in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in Jerusalem — suspected of having planted the bomb that exploded on the Number 12 bus — was discovered last night, shortly after the hospital announced he had succumbed to his wounds.
But the Hamas announcement that Abdel al-Hamid Abu Srour, 19, from the al-Ayda refugee camp in the Bethlehem area, was “one of ours” fell short of a full claim of responsibility for the attack, which injured 20 other people.
The Gaza-based terror group released a photo of Abu Srour wearing a Hamas scarf, and another photo that was decorated with emblems of the Second Intifada. But the announcement on the organization’s official website opened with a quote from a “Zionist” Facebook page providing the initial information that it was Abu Srour who had carried out the attack. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The death of Mahmoud Ishtiwi had all the trappings of a telenovela: sex, torture and embezzlement in Gaza’s most venerated and secretive institution, the armed wing of Hamas.
Mr. Ishtiwi, 34, was a commander from a storied family of Hamas loyalists who, during the 2014 war with Israel, was responsible for 1,000 fighters and a network of attack tunnels. Last month, his former comrades executed him with three bullets to the chest.
Adding a layer of scandal to the story, he was accused of moral turpitude, by which Hamas meant homosexuality. And there were whispers that he had carved the word “zulum” — wronged — into his body in a desperate kind of last testament.
His death has become the talk of the town in the conservative quarters of Gaza, the Palestinian coastal territory, endlessly discussed in living rooms, at checkpoints and in cabs. But to astute Gaza observers, this was more substantive than a soap opera.
Mr. Ishtiwi, who is survived by two wives and three children, was not the first member of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, to be killed by his own. What was unprecedented was the way his relatives spoke out publicly about it. [Continue reading…]
Azzam Tamimi writes: Lebanon’s Hezbollah was, until a few years ago, an inspiration to millions of people in the Middle East and around the world. It was a symbol of heroic resistance putting up a long fight to liberate the occupied territories of south Lebanon and continuing to stand up to Israeli aggression post-liberation.
There was a time when Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, was hailed as “master of the resistance”. His pictures were posted all over Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and were treasured by households across the Arab world. When he gave one of his usually long speeches, people were glued to TV sets and his Almanar satellite TV channel was no less popular than Al Jazeera itself. Many Palestinians truly believed Nasrallah was such a great resistance leader and they wished they had someone like him to lead their own resistance.
Yet today Hezbollah has lost much of the popular support and sympathy it once enjoyed and its leader Nasrallah is ridiculed and condemned by many of those who previously adored him. It is fighting a completely different type of war. Acting upon instructions from its sponsors in Tehran, where a reactionary clerical regime reigns, it is fighting a war in defence of a corrupt despotic regime that reigns in Damascus.
Unlike Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement – which saw itself as a partner of Hezbollah in the struggle against Zionism, refused to bow to pressure from the Iranians. Although Syria was, according to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, the best haven Hamas ever had outside Palestine, the movement opted to sacrifice all the privileges it had there so as to avoid taking any part in oppressing the Syrian people.
Since leaving Damascus four years ago, Meshaal turned down several invitations from the Iranians to visit Tehran, whose rulers made his visit a precondition for the resumption of any financial aid. Undoubtedly, the Syrian crisis drove deep a wedge between Hamas on the one hand and Hezbollah and Iran on the other. [Continue reading…]
Sarah Helm writes: In a house in Rafah, at the southern edge of Gaza, I met Sheikh Omar Hams, fifty-one years old, a slender figure dressed in a simple white robe and seated on a mattress on the floor. Hams is director of the Ibn Baz Islamic Institute, based in Rafah, where it also runs a bakery and charity outlets. His mission, he says, is to spread the word of the Prophet Muhammad and to give bread and other aid to the homeless and the poor.
Hams is a Salafist sheikh. “A Salaf means an original ancestor—one of those who lived close to the Prophet and observed his actions intimately, followed his ways and his words literally,” he explains. The sheikh teaches his students how to return to those ways, and they in turn spread the word. Unlike many Salafis, who abhor any rational argument about the literal meaning of the Koran, Hams is open to at least some debate. And though sometimes willing to support violent jihad, he accepts that violence is often not justified, preferring instead to secure a return to original Islam through the use of prayer, study, and preaching.
Pulling his legs underneath him, the sheikh prepares for questions on how the Prophet might have viewed the methods of Daesh (ISIS) — also Salafists — and on the battle to contain its influence across the world, most particularly here in Gaza.
Since 2007 Hamas has been the de facto government of Gaza, albeit under Israeli rule — a rule implemented nowadays by means of a military and naval blockade by air, land, and sea, which is described by the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, as “a collective penalty against the people of Gaza.” Hamas is itself an Islamist resistance movement, with a resistance “army” called al-Qassam, but Hamas members are seen as infidels by ISIS since they place the nationalist battle for a Palestinian state before the campaign for a caliphate. Hamas’s willingness to negotiate with Israel and to agree to a cease-fire last summer was seen by ISIS as the latest demonstration of its collaboration. ISIS supporters inside Gaza have shown their opposition and tried to break the cease-fire by firing rockets into Israel, thereby angering Hamas and risking heavy Israeli retaliation. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: Palestinian journalist Ayman al-Aloul frequently writes about the hardships of life in the Gaza Strip, and is one of the few voices willing to publicly criticize the rule of the Islamic Hamas movement.
But after nine days in jail, al-Aloul says he won’t be writing about politics anymore. He said a painful experience that included beatings and being forced to sit uncomfortably in a tiny chair has made him a “new man” and that he will now focus on less controversial topics like sports, food, literature and fashion.
“I’ve decided not to talk about the general situation anymore,” al-Aloul said in an interview at his home Tuesday, a day after he was released. “The experience I went through was very difficult.”
Al-Aloul’s experience is part of a crackdown by Hamas at a time when the continuing miseries of life in Gaza appear to be driving its population toward more open dissent. Critics have grown bolder on social media sites, and attempts by Hamas to impose new taxes have triggered rare public protests. [Continue reading…]