The Gaza Strip border was quiet Wednesday compared to Monday, when Israeli soldiers killed 62 Palestinian rioters and wounded over 1,000 others. Salah Bardawil, a senior Hamas official, yesterday said 50 of those killed were Hamas members.
Defense officials believe Hamas does not want to renew violent clashes and is considering how to continue the fence protests. Senior Southern Command officers held talks with the heads of the Gaza-area communities, and made it clear that it believes the events along the border are over, with Hamas showing signs of trying to restore quiet.
The IDF is responding accordingly. The large reinforcements that had been sent to the south and to the West Bank are being withdrawn and sent back to the missions and exercises they’d been pulled from.
The demonstrations’ intensity decreased following the mediation of Egypt and apparently of Qatar, whose intermediaries relayed messages between Israel and Hamas.
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On Sunday Hamas’ political leader in the Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, was called to Cairo for talks with intelligence officials. The Egyptians, in a tense meeting, offered to open the Rafah crossing in exchange for Hamas’ canceling of the demonstration planned for Monday. Haniyeh rejected the Egyptian offer. Israel Hayom reported on Tuesday that the Egyptian officials had threatened Haniyeh and humiliated him.
Hamas leaders renewed the telephone talks with the Egyptians on Monday afternoon, after dozens of Palestinians were killed and thousands were wounded by IDF sniper fire. At the same time the Israeli Air Force struck Hamas targets in daylight in the northern Strip and Israel threatened Hamas leaders that it was considering their assassination.
After Monday’s bloodletting, Hamas apparently decided to restrain the demonstrations. On Tuesday the protests at the fence were dramatically reduced, although two Palestinians were killed, and by Wednesday they had all but ended.
However, Gazan gunmen in the northern Strip fired at Israeli forces twice, and once in southern Gaza fired once. A few machine gun shells hit houses in Sderot. The fire was apparently aimed at troops moving near the fence. No one was hurt. The IDF retaliated with tank fire at Hamas posts in the north and south of the Strip.
Meanwhile, Egypt kept the Rafah crossing open and suggested opening it for 10 days a month, almost twice as long as it does now. Also, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom passage for merchandise going into Gaza, despite the heavy damage caused to the Palestinian side of the passage in the recent riots.
Damage to the terminal is estimated at 20-40 million shekels ($5.5 million to $11 million) and its repairs will take a relatively long time. The damage to the gas pipeline to the Strip is estimated at a few million shekels and can be repaired quickly, sources said.
Hamas hasn’t announced its plans yet, but the IDF believes Friday’s demonstrations will be smaller in scope than on previous weekends. The next big demonstration is planned for June 5, the Six-Day War anniversary. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the organization has reached an understanding with Egypt to keep the demonstrations at a level of “popular protest” and not to let the situation deteriorate into a military conflict.