Hamas largely stayed away from the fighting in Gaza on Saturday, increasing the chances that the current round of cross-border violence can be contained both in scale and duration.
Hamas political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh made noncommittal statements, saying Israel bears full responsibility for the latest escalation without giving details of Hamas’ own intentions.
One of the reasons may be employment. Since Gaza’s last major conflict in May last year, Israel has changed its policy towards Gaza in what officials have described as an effort to maintain peace, offering economic incentives to the 2 million civilians in the enclave. coastal and raising the stakes for Hamas. if he decided to join the hostilities.
Israeli security officials have issued thousands of permits to Gazans allowing them to enter Israel daily to work in agriculture and construction. About 14,000 Palestinian workers from Gaza have worked in Israel in recent months, the most since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and Israel has pledged to increase that number to 20,000.
Beyond this economic incentive, the Israeli military has also warned of the disastrous consequences of another round of major fighting in Gaza. Military officials have released what they describe as intelligence reports showing Hamas tunnels and other military infrastructure being built deep in Gaza’s residential areas, suggesting that civilian casualties would be almost inevitable in a military campaign.
In addition to work permits, Israel has also allowed improvements in recent months that have expanded Gaza’s water and electricity supply and increased import and export capacity.
More medical equipment was imported and exports of agricultural products from Gaza and its fishing, textile and furniture industries nearly doubled in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, said military officials.
But in recent days, as Islamic Jihad threatened to retaliate from Gaza for Israel’s arrest of one of the group’s top commanders in the West Bank, Israel closed border crossings, preventing the movement of people and goods across the border. inside and outside Gaza. Israeli residents living near the border were effectively placed under a curfew, with all roads closed in areas near Gaza.
Maj. Gen. Ghasan Alyan, the head of the military agency responsible for liaison on civilian issues in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, delivered a blunt message to Hamas on Friday, outlining the choice it faces over support for Jihad Islam or staying out of it. combat tower.
“The responsibility lies with Hamas,” he said in a video posted on the agency’s Arabic Facebook page. “Is he more concerned with helping the people of Gaza or helping dissident organizations?
Hamas’ decision to stay away so far was reminiscent of a short series of cross-border fighting in 2019. This round also opened with an Israeli airstrike that killed a top Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al- Ata, along with his wife, Asmaa Abu al-Ata, and incited Islamic Jihad to fire hundreds of rockets into Israel.
Over the next two days, Israel killed 34 people in Gaza, including about two dozen militants and several children. But Hamas chose not to join, limiting the scale of hostilities.
By contrast, it was Hamas that sparked the last major conflagration in Gaza in May 2021, when it fired a barrage of rockets towards Jerusalem after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions and clashes in the disputed city.