Reuters reports: An al Qaeda-linked group said three militants killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces last week were its members, and that their presence there showed that the Islamist network had taken root in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Al Qaeda has struggled to build up significant support in the West Bank, analysts say, and the Palestinian Authority that administers the area last week denied an Israeli report the men were linked to the organisation.
“By the will of God Almighty, the global jihadi doctrine has reached the bank of pride, the West Bank, planting its foothold after all attempts to thwart its presence,” said a statement posted by Majles Shura al-Mujahideen, or Holy Warriors’ Assembly, on an Islamist web forum.
The Economist: In the vanguard of the Islamist surge across the region a few years ago, Gaza’s Islamists now feel like the last men standing. Trapped between the Mediterranean sea and the walls of two hostile neighbours, Egypt and Israel, they wonder how long they, too, can survive. “It’s hopeless,” cries a senior man from Hamas, the Palestinians’ Islamist movement. “We tried democracy and we failed. We tried to reach out to the Israelis, accepting two states, and failed. We tried the armed struggle, and we paid the price.”
In olden times a crossroads between Africa and Asia, the tiny enclave of Gaza has rarely felt more isolated. Egypt’s generals, who took power last summer, have destroyed 90% of the tunnels through which Gaza got its fuel, shrouding the place in darkness. Mothers wake at midnight when the electricity briefly flickers on, to flush toilets and iron clothes. Lifts in high-rise buildings do not work. Sewage flows untreated. Farmers, unable to irrigate their fields, face ruin. “I should never have tried it,” says the owner of a hotel that opened last summer, overlooking Gaza’s picturesque port. Paying for his generators costs him more than he earns in a night.
Much of the mess is of Hamas’s own making. Carried away by the Arab awakening, its politburo abandoned its old patrons in Syria and Iran and rushed to embrace the Islamists who had taken power in Egypt. But the fall of its president, Muhammad Morsi, has left Hamas friendless. It has been kept out of the current negotiations, under America’s aegis, between Palestine and Israel. The only time the world seems to notice Gaza is when violence erupts. Gazans say they have dropped off the map. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: Just a year ago, Israel and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers fought a lopsided eight-day war in the skies that the United Nations said left more than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis dead.
The period since last November’s cease-fire, though, has been the calmest between the two sides in more than a decade.
Israeli military commanders, although still wary of armed factions in Gaza, offer unexpected praise for Hamas, the Islamist militant and political organization that governs the enclave. Not only have Hamas and its armed military wing shown restraint, the Israeli commanders say, but they also have demonstrated that they can rein in the more radical factions, such as Islamic Jihad, that operate alongside them.
“Hamas was able to prove to us that it can control rocket fire from Gaza,” said Brig. Gen. Mickey Edelstein, commander of the Israeli military’s Gaza division. “This is an achievement.” [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: Palestinian civilians are being embroiled in Israeli military training, including mock arrests, raids on private homes and incursions into villages, without being told they are involved in army exercises.
The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) defended the training exercises following complaints from an Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, about two separate drills held earlier this year. In the first, a large number of troops in full combat gear spread out in a small Palestinian village for several hours, causing alarm and fear among its population. In the second, about 15 armed soldiers raided the house of a family while they were finishing their evening meal during Ramadan. In neither case were residents told that it was a training exercise.
The Palestinians caught up in training drills are not informed in advance that an arrest or raid is an exercise. According to the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers, civilians with no connection with militant activity are usually selected for such exercises. “We used houses, streets, people like cardboard practice targets,” said one. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: As Secretary of State John F. Kerry resumes talks here Wednesday in the quest to create “two states for two people,” a vocal faction in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is, more openly than ever, opposing the very idea of a Palestinian state — and putting forward its own plans to take, rather than give away, territory.
Ministers in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition and leaders of his party, the Likud, are in revolt against the international community’s long-held consensus that there should be two states between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In the process, they are seeking to overturn the commitments of every U.S. president since Bill Clinton and at least four Israeli prime ministers, including the current one.
While once content to simply voice their opposition to giving up what they see as Jewish land or rights in the West Bank, these two-state opponents have gone beyond shouting “no” and are preparing details of their own vision for how Israel should proceed unilaterally after the current round of peace talks fails — which they say is inevitable.
“The day after peace talks fail, we need to have Plan B,” said Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely, a rising star in the Likud party and deputy minister of transportation in Netanyahu’s government.
Instead of a sovereign Palestinian nation arising in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital — which has been the focus of on-again, off-again peace negotiations since the Oslo Accords in 1993 — the two-state opponents envision Israel annexing large swaths of the West Bank. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Israeli military strikes killed four Palestinian militants from the military wing of Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza, late Thursday and early Friday after five Israeli soldiers were wounded in an explosion near the Israel-Gaza border.
It was the deadliest confrontation in the area since November 2012, when an Israeli offensive set off eight days of fierce cross-border fighting, which ended with a fragile, Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.
The episode began late Thursday when Israeli soldiers from an elite engineering unit were on a mission to destroy part of a mile-long tunnel running beneath the border from Gaza into Israel. The military discovered the tunnel last month and said it could have been used for an attack against Israeli soldiers or civilians.
The Israeli forces were apparently working on both sides of the border. The military said in a statement that during the operation, Hamas detonated an explosive device that wounded five soldiers and that soldiers fired back in response. Gaza security officials and witnesses said one militant had been killed and several injured when the Israeli forces fired a tank shell at a group of Hamas gunmen. [Continue reading...]
The Guardian reports: In Gaza City’s main market Mohammed Hilis stood disconsolately among piles of fruit and vegetables, waiting for customers. In the runup to Eid al-Adha, the second most important festival in the Muslim calendar, the market was unusually quiet. Steep price rises, unpaid salaries and layoffs – the consequences of the new Egyptian regime’s antipathy towards Hamas – have been painfully felt by the Gaza Strip.
“A kilo of tomatoes used to be one shekel [17p]; now it is five shekels. Most prices have gone up 50 – 60%,” said Hilis. “Why? Because of the costs of transportation, because there is no power to pump water to the fields, because there is no water. So people buy less.” As a result, his wages have slumped from 30 – 20 shekels a day, playing its small part in propelling the downward spiral of Gaza’s economy.
Six years after Israel imposed a stranglehold on Gaza as a punitive measure against the Hamas government, the strip of land along the Mediterranean is facing a new chokepoint from the south. After the Egyptian military forced President Mohamed Morsi out of office in July amid a brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the army embarked on a drive to regain control of the anarchic Sinai peninsula, isolate the Brotherhood’s allies in neighbouring Gaza, and halt the traffic in goods, weapons and people through the tunnels under the border with the Palestinian territory.
According to the commander of Egypt’s border guards force, Major-General Ahmad Ibrahim, almost 800 tunnels have been destroyed by his troops this year. Hamas is coy about the number of tunnels put out of action. But Hatem Owida, Gaza’s deputy economic minister, said activity had been reduced by 80-90% since the military takeover in Egypt. [Continue reading...]
Ma’an News Agency reports: The Egyptian army has established a precautionary plan for military intervention in the Gaza Strip if attacks on Egyptian troops in the Sinai Peninsula intensify, Egyptian security officials said Wednesday.
Officials told Ma’an that Egyptian reconnaissance planes had entered the Gaza Strip’s airspace and examined a number of locations in Rafah and Khan Younis to be targeted if military attacks against Egyptian troops intensify in Sinai.
Egyptian aircraft could also target vehicles which travel across the border area delivering smuggled goods, sources added. More smuggling tunnels could also be destroyed, and sources highlighted that “all options are open.”
According to Egyptian military sources, the ongoing attacks in Sinai are carried out by organizations based both in Sinai Peninsula and in the Gaza Strip.
Certain militant groups in the Gaza Strip, according to Egyptian officials, are “behind the violence” in Sinai, including Ansar al-Sunna, which has ties to Hamas, as well as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, among others.
As a result, sources argue that in order to maintain control over the Sinai, the Egyptian army has no choice but to shut down all smuggling tunnels and strike targets in Gaza if further red lines are crossed.
“The Egyptian army does not believe the population of Gaza is involved in the violence in Sinai, but certain factions strongly support Sinai groups. The tunnels play a major role in the communication between both sides,” a senior Egyptian official told Ma’an.
“In addition, Hamas, although its involvement is limited, is responsible for maintaining control of the smuggling tunnels as well as the factions operating in the coastal enclave,” he added.
The Guardian reports: The usually clogged streets of Gaza City are noticeably quieter. Hospitals are warning that their emergency reserves of fuel, used to power generators, are running dangerously low. Construction sites that until recently throbbed with the sound of heavy machinery are deserted.
Palestinians in Gaza are feeling the impact of regime change in next-door Egypt. Since the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted by the military on 3 July, not only have Gaza’s rulers, Hamas, lost their close political allies, but the Egyptian army has clamped down on the smuggling trade through the tunnels, which for six years have been a major lifeline for the 1.7m population of the tiny coastal strip.
The Egyptian authorities have targeted the underground passages as part of a drive to regain control of the vast Sinai desert, whose population is hostile to Cairo.
At the height of the black market trade between Gaza and Egypt, there were thought to be more than 1,000 tunnels employing around 7,000 people – providing Hamas with an income from taxes and permits of millions of dollars a month, estimated at 40% of the government’s revenue. But Egypt is thought to have closed or destroyed around 80% of the tunnels.
“The Gaza Strip has lost around $225m during the past month due to the halt of imports, namely fuel and crude materials for construction, such as cement, gravel and steel,” said the Hamas economy minister, Alaa al-Rafati. [Continue reading...]
Al Monitor reports: During rehearsals in a music school in Gaza, Firas al-Sharafi, age 10, and his friend Abdel Aziz Abu Sharkh, age 11, were playing a song by Lebanese singer Fairuz. The two boys were playing the dulcimer, reading musical notes and occasionally glancing at each other with a smile on their faces.
They dream of joining a big musical group that plays both Eastern and Western musical instruments. Their dream moved closer to reality when they enrolled in the only music school in Gaza five years ago. They go to the school three times a week, and they have mastered the art of reading music and playing both the dulcimer and percussion instruments.
Firas and Abdel Aziz know that their school faces a major challenge this year: financial problems have left the school on the brink of closure. The school had been free to attend, but students now have to pay roughly $600 a year.
“Closing the school would truly sadden us,” Abdel Aziz told Al-Monitor. “What will we do if it closes? Where will we go to learn music? We will continue to send endless emails to people to help our school. I will also make a film about the school to give people an incentive to donate.”