Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants participate in a military show in Gaza City.
(photo credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)
The weekend’s flare-up of violence in the Gaza Strip did not come as a surprise. In the past few weeks, Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the two major forces in the coastal enclave, have been warning of an imminent “explosion” due to what they call the slow pace of the implementation of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire understandings between the Gaza-based groups and Israel.
The two groups have accused Israel of foot-dragging with regard to the implementation of the understandings, especially concerning easing of restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are particularly worried over the delay of the transfer of Qatari funds to the Gaza Strip – a move that has further intensified the economic crisis there. Israel says that Qatar is responsible for the delay in the transfer of the funds.
PIJ officials have been skeptical about the ceasefire understandings from day one. However, the Iranian-backed group was prepared to give the Egyptians more time to pressure Israel to fulfill its obligations under the terms of the understandings. In the past few days, nonetheless, Islamic Jihad indicated that it was running out of patience in light of Israel’s “failure” to take far-reaching measures to ease restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s decision last week to minimize the fishing zone for Gaza fishermen is seen by Islamic Jihad as an attempt to torpedo the Egyptian-sponsored truce understandings. Israel later published the photos of several Islamic Jihad members it said were behind the recent rocket and incendiary balloon attacks on Israel. Islamic Jihad saw the move as a warning that Israel may resume its policy of targeted assassinations against the group’s senior operatives.
Since then, Islamic Jihad has issued several threats against Israel. In a series of statements and videos in the past few days, the group has threatened to launch rocket attacks against major cities and targets in Israel, including the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center and Ben-Gurion Airport. Over the weekend, PIJ also threatened to prevent the Eurovision Song Contest from taking place in Tel Aviv later this month.
At this stage, it remains unclear whether Islamic Jihad is acting independently or if its decision to escalate tensions with Israel is part of a joint and calculated effort by the two groups. Over the weekend, Egypt summoned leaders of both groups to Cairo for urgent talks on ways to avert a major military confrontation with Israel. Before heading to Cairo, Hamas and PIJ officials said they were expecting the Egyptians to put pressure on Israel to implement the ceasefire understandings in full.
The timing of the latest flare-up of violence is also a factor that needs to be taken into consideration. Palestine Islamic Jihad and Hamas believe that Israel is not interested in a war on the eve of Memorial Day, Independence Day and the Eurovision contest. The Palestinian groups feel this is the right time to try to pressure Israel for concessions. They also need to show their people some achievements in order to avoid another wave of protests against economic hardship like the ones that erupted in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
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