Are the Palestinians in Gaza and Israel heading for a new confrontation?


Officials of Palestinian resistance factions in the Gaza Strip met on Monday afternoon to discuss how to deal with the Israeli procrastination over its pledges to fulfil the terms of the ceasefire that ended the occupation state's 11-day offensive on the besieged enclave between 11 and 21 May. The meeting was due to be held at the office of Yahya Al-Sinwar, the senior Hamas official in Gaza, but minutes after it was opened, a security alert caused the building to be evacuated. Apparently, a rocket was fired from Gaza towards Israel.

The Palestinian factions announced earlier that they might be heading for a new confrontation with Israel if the occupation state does not commit to the pledges it made in May.

Regional and international actors, including the UN and the US, brokered the indirect talks between the Palestinian resistance groups and Israel. The ceasefire terms stipulated that Israel would reopen the border crossings, ease the 15-year-old siege imposed on the coastal enclave, allow the entry of humanitarian funding from Qatar and facilitate the reconstruction of the territory in the wake of the latest Israeli military offensive.

However, Israel has denied this and said that the ceasefire was unconditional. The resistance groups and Egypt, the main intermediary, insist that it was conditional. As a result, life for Palestinians in Gaza has become even more difficult.

The UN and other international bodies, as well as several Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, have described life in Gaza since May as "unbearable". They insist that Israel should allow raw materials to enter the enclave to boost local industry and help Gaza residents to cope with the difficult living conditions.

According to some Israeli officials though, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the price of easing the siege is the release of Israelis held captive in Gaza. They deny making pledges to Egypt and the other ceasefire brokers. However, it seems that the issue of the Israeli soldiers in Gaza was only a pretext to keep the siege in place for the same reason that it was imposed all those years ago: to make life for the Palestinians in Gaza so bad that they will bring an end to Hamas rule.

During and after the Israeli offensive on Gaza in May, the Palestinians showed unprecedented support for the resistance groups, especially the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. It has been ruling Gaza since 2006 following its overwhelming victory in the parliamentary election.

Israel has been blocking the Qatari funds, only partially opened the crossings and enforced a full ban on construction materials. Moreover, even patients requiring urgent treatment abroad have difficulties leaving and re-entering Gaza. In related moves, Israel, certain Arab countries and the US have been working to strengthen the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas. This demonstrates that Israel's procrastination is intended to weaken Hamas and create internal pressure against the movement.

In an effort to make some progress, the resistance groups have intermittently allowed the launch of incendiary balloons towards Israel, but this has not stirred the Israelis into acknowledging and acting upon the ceasefire terms. The factions are now ready to discuss new measures to push Israel to respect its pledges. According to the spokesman of Islamic Jihad in Palestine, they "will not let Israel use the siege to cover up its failure on the ground and we will not surrender to it, we will fight it."

While has been no clear indication of how the Palestinian resistance might deal with the Israeli procrastination, Hamas Political Bureau member Izzat Al-Resheq warned that Israel must end its violations in Jerusalem and address the damage caused by the bombardment of Gaza. "What comes after the 'Sword of Al-Quds' battle will not be like what went before," he told Reuters, "because the Palestinian people backed the resistance and know that the resistance is what will liberate their land and protect their holy sites."

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasim said yesterday that the silence of his movement would not last for too long. "If Israel wants the state of calm to continue, it must fulfil its pledges," he said. He mentioned specifically easing the siege and allowing the entry of construction materials.

"The Palestinian factions are certainly going for a new escalation if Israel does not move to improve the lives of the Gaza residents and lift restrictions on imports and exports," commented Palestinian journalist and writer Mustafa Al-Sawwaf.

Israeli journalist Baruch Yedid, though, told me that Israel "is putting pressure on Gaza for a certain reason, but it does not want to end up with a military action."

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