Gazans wary of new Israeli war, continued siege

There are fears that an escalation in Israeli air strikes would lead to high civilian casualties in Gaza.
Sunday 31/03/2019
Palestinians look at a destroyed Hamas site that was bombed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza, March 27. (Reuters)
In the crossfire. Palestinians look at a destroyed Hamas site that was bombed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza, March 27. (Reuters)

LONDON - Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are wary that fighting between Hamas and Israel could escalate into a full-blown Israeli military onslaught but they also expressed frustration with the continuation of the siege on the enclave.

The latest flare-up began March 25 after a long-distance rocket fired from Gaza hit a house near Tel Aviv and wounded seven Israelis. Hamas, which controls Gaza, denied involvement in the attack but Israel responded with air strikes against Hamas and other targets across the Palestinian territory.

The strikes led Palestinian militants to fire rockets towards Israel, which responded with more attacks and massed troops near the Gaza border. No fatalities were reported on either side.

An Egyptian-brokered truce between Hamas and Israel appears to be holding, despite occasional skirmishes. Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and smaller militant groups said in a statement that they are “committed to calm” as long as Israel is but there are concerns that the situation would get out of control.

Israel is in the middle of a campaign ahead of April 9 elections, in which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is presenting himself as the candidate who best offers his countrymen security. He was criticised by his electoral rivals for failing to stop rocket fire from Gaza.

Observers say Netanyahu’s response is likely to be limited to air strikes because it will not be in his favour to wage a ground war in the middle of an election campaign.

“Invading Gaza and carrying out a ground operation is very costly; that’s why Israel relies heavily on its air force to terrorise civilians in Gaza,” said Adnan Abu Amer, a Palestinian expert in Israeli affairs. “It is an (Israeli) attempt to regain the so-called power of deterrence and save face.”

There are fears, however, that an escalation in Israeli air strikes would lead to high civilian casualties in Gaza.

“People here are depressed and frustrated because suffering has become a feature of our daily life. There is fear of and anger at the unknown. Our lives are at stake. An escalation can happen any moment. We cannot plan for the future,” said Marwan Diab, a Gaza resident.

For Israel, halting rocket fire may not be enough. The Israelis want Hamas to stop the Palestinian protests near the Israeli border, known as the “Great March of Return,” which began a year ago. Marking the first anniversary of the protests, organisers had a “Million Man March” March 30.

During the past year, more than 200 Palestinian protesters have been killed by Israeli fire. Human rights groups said most of the demonstrators did not pose a threat to the Israeli military.

Among the key demands of the protesters is for Israel to lift the siege on Gaza, which the United Nations says has the Palestinian enclave on the brink of collapse.

“No calm or tranquillity is expected in Gaza before lifting the siege and allowing people here to have a normal life,” said Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a Palestinian political analyst.

Some residents in Gaza see a military escalation between Israel and Hamas as the only way to draw attention to the humanitarian disaster resulting from the siege. “I am in favour of an escalation if it ultimately brings a solution to the harsh living conditions in Gaza by lifting the Israeli siege,” said Walid Mahmoud, a Gaza resident.

Kari Abdullah, another Gaza resident, said that, while Gazans have become accustomed to Israel’s military escalations, they can no longer bear the siege. “We have experienced many wars. We have nothing to lose… A ceasefire will be fragile as Israel thinks it can violate it any time by presenting any excuse,”  Abdullah said.

Others say that they have had enough of wars and of the siege. “The people of Gaza do not need any more wars or destruction. People here want to live peacefully because they have had enough. Gaza is a big prison and people support any party that is able to lift the siege, naval blockade and allow freedom of movements,” said Gaza resident Nour Malik.

Gaza residents said they appreciated the role of Egyptian mediation and hoped that Cairo would press Israel more.

“The Egyptian role is appreciated but not strong enough. People want the Israeli side to commit itself to the ceasefire,” said Diab.

“We think the role of the Egyptian mediators is important. Even if the ceasefire is fragile, at least they (the Egyptians) can have an influence,” said Mahmoud.

“I believe the Egyptian efforts are good but we know Israel does not respect its agreements with the Palestinian side,” said Malik.