Car blasts shake Gaza
GAZA CITY - Five nearly simultaneous blasts that targeted a north-eastern Gaza neighbourhood housing the military branch of Hamas have been blamed on Islamic State (ISIS) militants.
There was no claim of responsibility for the July 19th attacks. However, Hamas immediately pointed at ISIS supporters, especially the hard-line Salafis, who have come under a Hamas crackdown following similar explosions in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.
The presence of ISIS in Gaza threatens prospects for Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. It also risks the security of neighbours such as Jordan, which is locked between ISIS branches in Iraq and Syria, where the group has set up a self-declared caliphate.
The attacks destroyed five cars belonging to members of al-Qassam and al-Quds brigades, the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a separate militant group. Two bystanders were wounded and severe damage to buildings in the vicinity was reported.
The explosions, which occurred shortly after 6am, were caused by bombs placed underneath vehicles parked outside homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials. Investigators said the timing of the explosions suggested that they were meant more as warnings than threats against officials’ lives.
“Suspected criminal elements are trying to create a state of instability,” Iyad Bozzom, spokesman of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, said. He did not elaborate on the suspects but noted that several people were arrested for questioning. “We will do our best to keep Gaza safe and secure,” Bozzom vowed. Witnesses said Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials were sleeping in their homes when the blasts occurred.
Mahmoud, 33, a neighbour of the officials, said he “jumped from bed shortly after 6 at the sound of a loud explosion”.
“I ran outside the door to see what’s going on, when I heard the remaining explosions, each three minutes apart from the other,” he recalled. “Then, I went out to the street, where I saw black smoke rising from cars on flames and there was smell of gunpowder everywhere”.
Shortly afterwards, dozens of masked Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants arrived, shooting into the air to disperse the crowd. Police immediately opened an investigation.
Al-Qassam and al-Quds brigades said in a joint statement that they would “respond to the hands that placed themselves in the quarter of treason”. It said the culprits “are avenging from us in collaboration with the (Israeli) occupation”.
Khader Mehjez, a Gaza-based analyst of Islamic groups, said Gazans have grown “fed up” with explosions and violence.
“The Hamas de facto government knows every tiny detail in Gaza,” Mehjez said. “If the culprits are not brought to justice, government leaders must be held accountable.”
Mustafa Ibrahim, a Gaza-based rights activist, said “it is too early to decide who’s responsible for these huge explosions”.
“The security apparatus must answer this question before accusing ISIS of being behind the blasts,” he said.