Gaza: Israel seeks to ‘drag Hamas into war’

Residents and analysts of Gaza anguish over the prospects of another Israeli onslaught.

Gaza children
Nearly three years after the last onslaught, fewer than half the international funds pledged for Gaza reconstruction have been disbursed [The Associated Press]

Gaza Strip – One week since the assassination of Hamas senior activist Mazen Faqha, the prevailing mood in Gaza is one of uncertainty and fear of another Israeli onslaught.

“Many people here regard a fourth Israeli war [on Gaza] as inevitable – a matter of when, not if,” said Moutasem al-Haddad, a shop owner in Gaza’s lively al-Rimal street.

Faqha was a former detainee who was freed in the 2011 Shalit prisoner swap deal and exiled to the Gaza Strip. Israel has repeatedly charged him with leading Hamas’ efforts to reestablish an armed presence for the Gaza-based movement in the occupied West Bank.

He was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in front of an apartment building where he lived in Gaza City’s southern Tel al-Hawa suburb late on Friday night. The operation was unusual in both tactics and location. It left people in the Strip in a state of shock and dismay.

“The past few days remind me of the days in 2014, before the third war [on Gaza] started,” said Sobhiya al-Areer, a Palestinian woman whose son was killed and house destroyed in the 2014 Israeli assault on the Strip. Areer has only recently relocated from a rented apartment to her newly rebuilt house in Shujayea, while her sons remain displaced, waiting for their turn in the sluggish reconstruction process.

“As a mother who lost a son in the war I felt the pain of losing Faqha more than anyone,” Areer said. Still, she fears what a new war may bring to her family. “I still have nightmares whenever the [talk of] war is brought up,” she told Al Jazeera.

READ MORE: ‘Strong evidence’ of Israeli war crimes in Gaza

Faqha’s shooters remain on the run while security apparatuses in Gaza try to decode the murder. Since the assassination, checkpoints were erected along key streets in the Strip and police presence has intensified. Restrictions were imposed by the Interior Ministry on the movement of people through the Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing between Gaza and Israel.

“The professional style of this operation, and the tools that the assassins used, indicate that a sophisticated enemy was behind it,” Iyad al-Bozum, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, told Al Jazeera, naming Israel as the most likely culprit. “Investigations are still ongoing, however,” he added. 

Al-Bozum’s intuition is shared widely among people in the Strip. “There is no doubt regarding who is behind this operation, it’s the [Israeli] occupation,” Mohammed Azzam, a local Palestinian journalist, told Al Jazeera.

Shortly following the assassination, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, pinned the assassination on Israel and vowed to retaliate. “We say clearly that the Israeli occupation is fully responsible for this crime and bears its consequences,” the Brigades said in a press statement on Friday. “The occupation will pay a heavy price for this crime,” the statement continued.

So far, there has been no official Israeli comment over Faqha’s death. Still, the heated rhetoric and the intense buzzing of Israeli drones over Gaza leave little room for people in the Strip to feel at ease.

As the majority of people in Gaza anguish over the prospects of a new war and how it could exacerbate the calamitous situation in the Strip, others fear that the situation per se might lead to war.

A report by Israel’s State Comptroller Joseph Shapira a month ago criticised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet for ignoring warnings by Israeli security services regarding the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and its consequences for Israel.

READ MORE: Israel’s cabinet ‘ignored warnings’ over 2014 Gaza war

Nearly three years after the last onslaught, fewer than half the international funds pledged for Gaza reconstruction have been disbursed.

Further, being under Israeli blockade for over a decade, Gaza remains gripped by a myriad of crises.

Severe water and electricity deficiencies compound a situation where food insecurity prevails and health services are on a limp. Meanwhile, the unsettling socioeconomic situation continues to deteriorate as the Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, faces staggering unemployment rates.

Israel, according to political science student Abdullah Sabra, is once again overlooking the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, pushing residents to the point where they have little to lose. “They are doing the same thing, again!” Sabra told Al Jazeera. 

Gaza’s medical care crumbling under Israeli siege

Eid Musleh, a Palestinian expert on Israeli affairs, confirms Sabra’s worries and says that the assassination signals that Israel is ready to engage in a new war on Gaza.

“The timing of the assassination which followed the ascension of a new Hamas leadership implies an Israeli attempt to drag Hamas to a new confrontation,” he told Al Jazeera.

He pointed out recent Israeli military drills near the Gaza borders, which, Eid says, sends a message to Hamas that Israel is “ready for war”.

On the contrary, Ibrahim al-Madhoun, manager of the Gaza-based Future Political Studies Institute, sees that the nature of the assassination indicates an Israeli attempt to distance itself from the operation. “They are not willing to bear the consequences, hence the complex nature of this assassination and the Israeli silence that followed it,” he told Al Jazeera. “They want to drag the resistance into a war of attrition where they can pay a very little price.”

However, both Musleh and al-Madhoun agree that Hamas’ reaction cannot be foreseen.

Meanwhile, uncertainty remains high, as well as the chance for miscalculated moves on either side of the border. “Hamas is caught between a rock and a hard place,” Gaza-based analyst Adnan Abu Amer told Al Jazeera. 

“A retaliation is bound to start a war, and absence of retaliation will encourage Israel to go further and carry out more assassinations.”

Source: Al Jazeera