Hamas Officials Say Latest Gaza Flare-up Doesn't Affect Truce Negotiations With Israel

The Israeli army and the Iran-backed militant group Islamic Jihad exchanged blows following a border incident on Sunday, but Hamas did not get actively involved in the fighting and is ready to uphold a truce

Jack Khoury
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A rocket is fired towards Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip February 24, 2020.
A rocket is fired towards Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip February 24, 2020.Credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS
Jack Khoury

Israel will continue implementing economic relief measures reached in cease-fire talks with Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip over the past couple of weeks despite a recent escalation earlier this week, senior Hamas officials said Tuesday.

“We’re treating this as an isolated incident, despite the difficult sights from Khan Yunis, where a body was dragged by a bulldozer,” one Hamas political official said, referring to an incident Sunday morning where an Israeli army bulldozer dragged a slain Palestinian militant into Israeli territory.

“This incident forced Islamic Jihad to respond and that drew a counter-response, but as far as the Palestinian factions are concerned, this incident didn’t break the rules,” the official added.

Gazan officials from various Palestinian factions said that the latest round of fighting began and ended according to the principle of “quiet for quiet,” and that negotiations on a cease-fire went quickly, mediated by Egyptian intelligence and the United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov.

“It’s already become a permanent ritual,” said Talal Abu Zarifa of the Democratic Front for the Liberal of Palestine, whose members shot at Israeli soldiers on Monday near the Erez Checkpoint on the Gaza-Israel border. “An escalation begins and within a few days, the situation calms down again. In practice, it doesn’t lead to substantive changes.”

A Palestinian militant holds a weapon as he surveys an Islamic Jihad site that was targeted in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip February 24, 2020.
A Palestinian militant holds a weapon as he surveys an Islamic Jihad site that was targeted in an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip February 24, 2020. Credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

He said Israeli punitive measures are also part of the ritual. These include closing the border crossings, which are reopened again immediately afterward, and reducing the zone in which Gazans are permitted to fish before quickly expanding it again. He expects Israel will reverse its sanctions equally quickly this week.

It’s important to Israel that Gaza not collapse, he added, but at the same time, it also doesn’t want the territory to recover.

Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ziyad al-Nakhalah spoke on Tuesday with Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political wing, who has been in Qatar for the last few months. According to media reports from Gaza, they discussed the recent escalation and agreed to continue the cooperation between their organizations.

During the latest escalation, Hamas’ military wing publicly voiced support for Islamic Jihad and threatened Israel, but didn’t actually launch any operations of its own against Israel, thereby showing the organization’s desire to maintain the cease-fire as agreed on last week. Hamas said talks on stabilizing the cease-fire are taking place mainly through Egyptian intelligence.

The organization denied Arab media reports about attempts to arrange a meeting in Doha, the capital of Qatar, between senior Hamas officials and Israeli representatives. These reports were prompted by a recent visit to Qatar by Mossad director Yossi Cohen and the head of the army’s Southern Command, Herzl Halevi, who sought to encourage a continuation of Qatari aid to Gaza.

Mohammed Al-Emadi, Qatar’s envoy to the Gaza Strip, recently met with Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, and agreed to increase the number of Gazan families that receive a monthly Qatari stipend of $100 from 75,000 to 120,000. They also agreed that Qatar would help needy families repair their homes, hold weddings and pay college tuition, as part of an aid package totaling $15 million.

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