Fears of conflagration in Gaza after another killing

Fears of conflagration in Gaza after another killing
The killing Wednesday of a Hamas member in Gaza has increased tensions in a volatile situation. Gazans have yet to see any movement on promises to rebuild the impoverished strip's devastated infrastructure.
4 min read
25 December, 2014
With no progress on reconstruction and repeated truce violations, more violence looms (AFP)
The killing of a Hamas member in Gaza has raised tensions and fears of possible conflagration only four months after an Egyptian-mediated truce between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, other Palestinian factions and Israel was agreed.

Tayseer al-Ismary, a 33-year-old member of Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, was killed in an Israeli shelling in southern Gaza on Wednesday.

Palestinian medical sources said Ismary was killed “as a result of gunfire and shrapnel from a tank shell” in the
     Gaza ... could explode at any moment.

- Ismail Radwan, Hamas
incident east of the southern city of Khan Yunis.

Earlier in the day, an Israeli soldier patrolling the border with Gaza had been wounded after coming under fire from a sniper, according to the Israeli army.

The military said the soldier shot was on the Israeli side of the border fence, and pinned the blame on Hamas.

Ismary's killing is the second major Israeli strike on Gaza in a week. On Saturday, an Israeli air strike struck Khan Younis. No injuries were reported.

And Palestinians have accused the Israelis of repeated violations of the truce agreement that ended Israel’s 51-day assault on Gaza on August 26.

'Constant violations'

“The constant Israeli violations, the inactivity with regards to reconstruction [of Gaza], the continuation of the siege and the closure of the crossings is turning Gaza into a time bomb, which could explode at any moment,” Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination Affairs, which keeps a weekly record, documented four cases of Palestinians wounded by Israeli fire in the week from December 9 – 15 alone, the last for which statistics are available.

That same week saw 93 Palestinians injured in clashes in the West Bank following the death of a Palestinian Authority minister, Ziad Abu Ein.

Israel has created an undefined no-go area near the wall it has built around Gaza. Much of the border area is farmland, and many Gazans, whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, often risk it.

Moreover, with no official boundary for the no-go zone, what constitutes close is a guessing game. OCHA can only suggest that areas within 100 metres of the concrete wall “are largely inaccessible, while access to areas several hundred metres beyond this distance is risky”.

Ismary’s killing is the second since the August 27 truce was agreed in Cairo. In late September, a Gazan fisherman was killed when fired on by an Israeli navy ship patrolling Gaza’s waters.

Israel restricts Gazan fishing to within a six-mile nautical limit. According to a 2005 US-mediated Agreement on Movement and Access, Gaza should have a 12-mile limit, while the Oslo Accords stipulates a 20-mile limit.

For its part, the Israeli army said the killing was a response to the shooting of the soldier which it called an “act of aggression”.

“[The] IDF will continue to protect its forces and the border area,” the Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner said on Twitter.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu also warned that further unrest could lead to an Israeli escalation. “[Israel will] react firmly to any attempt to call into question calm in the south [of Israel] following Operation Protective Edge,” referring to the summer’s attack on Gaza.

Fears of renewed violence

There are now concerns that there could be a new round of fighting in Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, and one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

The July-August assault left 2,200 Palestinians there dead – the vast majority civilians. Sixty-six Israelis soldiers were also killed along with seven civilians across the border.

In the wake of that assault, international donors promised US$2.7 billion to help rebuild Gaza at a conference in Cairo in October.

But Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Mustafa on Monday told the Associated Press that "not even one penny" has been received from major donors such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.

Ibrahim al-Madhoun, a Palestinian political analyst, said that with little movement on rebuilding the devastated and impoverished strip and no outlook for an improvement in the economic situation, the situation is volatile.

“The Palestinian and the Israeli sides do not want a new round of wide-ranging military clashes, as happened in the last war. But the continuation of the situation in the Strip as it is could lead to a big explosion,” Madhoun said.

Alex Fishman, an Israeli military analyst, agreed that a new round of hostilities was likely. 

“[Israeli intelligence services] indicate that there is a big chance of a new round of armed clashes taking place with Gaza and the West Bank, with varying degrees,” Fishman wrote in Yedioth Ahronot, an Israeli daily.

“Instructions have been given by the Israeli armed forces general command to prepare for the possibility of armed clashes in Gaza,” he added.