The impression from the weekend's events was that neither Israel nor Hamas was interested in escalating the situation, and both are looking for ways to lower the flame and restore the unofficial cease-fire on the Gaza Strip border since the end of Operation Cast Lead about a year and a half ago.
On Friday a Grad Katyusha rocket fired from Gaza landed in Ashkelon, causing no injuries. It is not clear who was behind the firing. It is reasonable to assume it was not Hamas but one of the rogue organizations in the Gaza Strip identified with World Jihad or Al-Qaida.
In retaliation, Israel attacked three Hamas targets, killing a senior Gaza Strip operative.
Israel holds the Hamas government responsible for every firing incident, even if the organization did not carry it out and is not behind it. The message to Hamas is clear. If you permit rocket fire at Israel, you will pay a heavy price. The Palestinian side appears to have learned the lesson. While once, when Israel killed a senior operative, dozens of rockets were launched at Israel from Gaza, this time only one rocket was fired at Israel on Saturday evening, causing damage to Sapir College near Sderot. No one was injured.
Israel has also restricted its activity. It retaliated before dawn on Sunday by attacking two tunnels on the Rafah border, in line with its policy to react to every incident of rocket fire. Since then, things have been quiet.
Even if Hamas is not behind the rocket fire and has no wish to escalate the situation, it may have an interest in allowing rogue groups to get away with the occasional rocket. Hamas' popularity is declining among the Palestinian public (contrary to some analysts' comments ) and worse, signs of a peace process and even direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are flickering on the horizon. Perhaps Hamas, by giving more rope to World Jihad groups in Gaza, is sending a message to Israel, the PA and especially the Arab states, not to ignore it.
Hamas denounced the Arab League's green light to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for direct talks with Israel. Abbas' agreeing to such talks without a construction freeze in the settlements will help Hamas in the Palestinian street in the short run.
But if any real progress is made in the talks, Hamas will have a serious problem. In case of a breakthrough in the peace talks, Hamas presumably will find it increasingly difficult not to interfere with the negotiations, whether by firing rockets at Israel or even launching terror attacks within Israel.
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