Former defense minister Amir Peretz warned of the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, saying that it is impossible for Israel to ignore.
“We are in a period of great uncertainty in the northern sector and any event can ignite a great conflagration,” Peretz said during his speech on Tuesday at the annual Sderot Conference for Society at Sapir Academic College.
“It is impossible to ignore the humanitarian situation in Gaza,” Peretz continued, “The Iron Dome can intercept missiles, but not mosquitoes and diseases or pollution of the sea and the aquifers.”
While Israel is “not responsible for this problem,” he said, it will be affected by it.
Due to dwindling electricity supplies being unable to power the Strip’s wastewater treatment infrastructure, raw sewage from Gaza flows on a daily basis into Israel, both via the Mediterranean Sea and Nahal Hanun, which crosses the border on land. In July, the Health Ministry closed Zikim Beach, just north of the Strip, due to fecal contamination.
“It would be easier for Hamas to appear before the international community as a victim who protects a population in a humanitarian crisis and not as an aggressor who fires missiles at Israeli citizens.”
Peretz made the comments a day after the head of the Southern Command, Maj.- Gen. Eyal Zamir, said that Israel would only help alleviate the living conditions in the coastal enclave if the terrorist group returned the bodies of the two soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and the two civilians being held captive by Hamas.
“We have the utmost responsibility to bring back the captives and the IDF soldiers. The improvement of Gaza Strip residents’ situation is dependent upon this as well,” he said at the Sderot Conference.
“The society here [in Sderot] is independent and vibrant compared to the society several hundreds of meters from here, where the Hamas leadership is harming civil rights. Hamas is investing resources in terrorism and not in the welfare of its residents,” Zamir continued.
According to Zamir, Hamas is “exploiting” the civilian population’s anger and desperation by using the weekly protests along the security fence to carry out attacks against Israeli troops “in order to distract the attention of those civilians from [Hamas’s] many failures.”
The head of the Southern Command also reiterated the assessment by the defense establishment that Hamas is “playing a dangerous game by getting closer to the evil access of Iran and Hezbollah.”
While both Israel and Hamas have stated that they are not looking for conflict, the current fuel crisis to hit the Strip – residents having less than four hours of electricity daily – has led to concerns, including by senior IDF officers, that a war might break out if either side miscalculates the other side’s actions.
Hamas has previously provoked a confrontation with Israel to detract from internal issues and, in addition to a lack of fuel to supply residents with electricity, Gaza’s water utility company has warned that it does not have enough fuel to run water and sanitation facilities when the power is off.