Gaza tensions spark fears of renewed Hamas-Israel war
LONDON - Escalating tensions in the Gaza Strip are threatening to develop into a full-blown conflict between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas.
Israeli warplanes pounded 20 targets in Gaza on October 17 after two rockets were fired from the Palestinian territory, supposedly by militants not affiliated with Hamas. Israel also closed both its two border crossings with Gaza in reprisal.
Hamas disavowed the rocket fire and stressed that the movement rejected “all irresponsible attempts” to undermine Egyptian efforts to broker a long-term truce with Israel. However, Israel said it held Hamas responsible for any rocket fire from Gaza.
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said areas targeted by the Israeli included a tunnel and an “advanced weapons manufacturing site.” One Palestinian was killed and three others were wounded in the strike, said Gaza’s Health Ministry.
The rocket fire and air strikes drew renewed international concerns. UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said the rocket attack was a “dangerous escalation” but pledged work with all sides to avoid a confrontation between Hamas and Israel.
International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she was “alarmed by the continued violence, perpetrated by actors on both sides, at the Gaza border with Israel.”
“As prosecutor seized of the situation in [the Palestinian territories], I therefore feel compelled to remind all parties that the situation remains under preliminary examination by my office,” she said. “I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action.”
The European Union said Palestinian rocket attacks targeting civilians were “unacceptable.”
“The rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian militants from Gaza towards Israel must stop immediately,” the European Commission said in a statement. “Indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable. The first priority now is for de-escalation.”
A Palestinian source told Reuters that Egyptian officials in Gaza have been in touch with Israel to avoid further escalation.
The 11-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza has resulted in a “catastrophic” humanitarian situation, the United Nations said. The latest escalation comes nearly six months after Palestinians began weekly protests along the Gaza border. More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 30.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Gaza protests cannot be allowed to continue. “We are not prepared to accept the level of violence we see week after week,” he said. “My opinion is very clear. We must land a strong blow against Hamas. That’s the only way to lower the level of violence to zero or close to zero.”
Lieberman told a security cabinet meeting that it must order a military attack against Hamas “even at a price of moving to a wide-scale confrontation.”
“We have exhausted all of the options and all of the possibilities. Now is the time to make decisions,” he said.
Lieberman suspended diesel shipments to Gaza after clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces at the border area.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu threatened “very painful blows” against Hamas if the protests don’t stop. “If it has any sense, Hamas will cease its fire and violent outbursts — now,” said Netanyahu.
Some observers warned that the escalated Israeli rhetoric may be for electioneering purposes and could have counterproductive results.
“The problem is that this pre-elections belligerent rhetoric, which is all too common in the Israeli political arena nowadays, there’s a dynamic that could lead us to an unnecessary escalation that would extract a much heavier, bloodier price than we’re currently paying for the clashes on the border,” wrote Ron Ben Yishai in an opinion article at Ynetnews.com.
“It is important that the cabinet ministers, especially Netanyahu and Lieberman, cease issuing threatening pronouncements in order to please their electoral base and focus on an ongoing practical dialogue with senior officers of the General Staff and the Shin Bet security service to ensure the country is prepared for a change in the situation.”