Hamas Leader Says Israel's 'Foot Dragging' Puts Ceasefire Agreements in 'Danger Zone'

Israel has failed to allow freedom of movement and conducted 'a policy of extortion' via its frequent reductions of Gaza’s permitted fishing zone, Haniyeh says

Hamas' chief Ismail Haniyeh attends a meeting with foreign reporters at al-Mat'haf hotel in Gaza City, June 20, 2019.
Adel Hana/ AP

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip warned Thursday that Israel's "foot dragging" in implementing understandings for calm in the coastal enclave could threaten the continuation of that calm.

At a meeting with foreign journalists in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas had worked hard to achieve these understandings, which were reached under the auspices of the United Nations and Qatar. But so far, he added, the Palestinians in Gaza haven’t felt those understandings materialize, which puts them “in the danger zone.”

Haniyeh said Israel has failed to allow freedom of movement through the border crossings and conducted “a policy of extortion” via its frequent reductions of Gaza’s permitted fishing zone. Israel is also delaying implementation of electricity and job-creation projects, while severely restricting the flow of money into Gaza, he said.

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The Palestinians are using a variety of measures in their effort to lift the Gaza blockade, including the Marches of Return, which have brought tens of thousands of Gazans to protest along the Israeli border, he said, stressing that the marches will continue until this goal is achieved.

The next march will take place on Friday, and organizers have called for mass participation. But a senior member of the organizing committee said the march will remain in the format of the past few weeks, meaning protesters will be urged to stay away from the border fence and avoid violence.

Meanwhile, Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – has asked Military Advocate General Sharon Afek and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to immediately ban the use of live fire, including sniper fire, against Palestinian protesters. In particular, Adalah said, there was no justification for using live fire against those dubbed “key instigators” or “key rioters” – terms the army defined in an English-language document published in February.

In May 2018, the Supreme Court rejected two petitions by human rights groups against the army’s rules of engagement for the border protests. The ruling stressed that soldiers could use live fire only when faced with “a clear and present danger” to themselves or Israeli civilians, but said that based on the material presented to it, the rules of engagement indeed allow live fire only as a last resort, and to the minimum extent necessary.

But the document the army published in February noted that “key instigators” may merely be “persons who direct or order activities within the mob, such as coordinating the tactical placement and setting on fire of tires.”

Moreover, according to the document, “key instigators” and “key rioters” often conduct “activities within the violent riots for a lengthy period of time, and snipers face a challenge in identifying a time which provides the necessary circumstances for carrying out their fire while reducing the risk of hitting above the knee or hitting someone else. For instance, snipers may act as a person temporarily moves away from the crowd or rests before continuing his activity.”

Attorney Suhad Bishara of Adalah said this document shows the rules of engagement approved by the court have nothing to do with the rules actually used in the field.

“The Israeli army, which until now has hidden its vague definition of the invented category of ‘key instigator,’ has now openly revealed that this definition exists only to retroactively explain how people who didn’t pose a clear and present danger to Israeli soldiers or civilians were shot dead or wounded,” she said. She accused the army of shooting indiscriminately at unarmed civilians out of a complete contempt for the value of human life, and also of blatantly violating international law.

Mendelblit’s office said Adalah’s letter has been received and a response will be sent directly to Adalah.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit released a statement, saying, "While dealing with violent disturbances and terror activity along the Gaza border, the Israel Defense Forces acts according to Israeli and international law.

"Petitioning the High court of Justice against the army's rules of engagement, which is mentioned [in Adalah’s] letter was rejected by the court after thoroughly reviewing the plaintiffs' claims," the statement read.

"It should be also noted that the report issued by the United Nations commission of inquiry, on which the plaintiffs are basing their claims, is unprofessional, wrong and bias, and certainly cannot be relied upon as a criterion for examining the IDF's conduct.

"[Adalah’s] letter has been received by the IDF, will be reviewed by the relevant elements, and a reply will be sent directly to the plaintiffs," the statement said.