“Radical groups,” among them Islamic Jihad, could wrest control of Gaza from Hamas, thereby opening the door for outside forces to control the Strip, UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned in Jerusalem on Thursday.
The reconciliation process between Hamas and Fatah is frozen at the moment, Mladenov said. Palestinian Authority President and Fatah Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s punitive economic measures have brought life in Gaza to a standstill, he added.
“People are not getting salaries. There is no electricity and no water. That increases the likelihood of the radicals taking over [from Hamas] with an agenda that would be more militant.”
New groups and outsides forces are active in the Strip, including “a number of Salafi elements” that are already operating aggressively, he said.
“What we see is one organization – watch it carefully over the next few months – Islamic Jihad
, really coming out of the woodwork in Gaza,” Mladenov told the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations.
“All of the rockets that have been fired toward Israel from December of last year, came from Islamic Jihad,” he said. “This is an organization that has open links to one country [Iran] beyond the region, very open links.
That is a very dangerous element in the situation on the ground, and if anyone were to want to ferment trouble in Gaza they could quite easily do it through these jihadi groups,” he said.
Out of all the dangers Israel faces along its borders, “Gaza is perhaps the most risky element of the situation now,” Mladenov said. “We are very worried that it could explode at a moment’s notice.”
The UN, Israel and Egypt are working together on an almost daily basis to maintain calm in Gaza, Mladenov said.
When he took up his post in 2015, he told the conference, only 20 or 30% of his time was spent on Gaza, compared to 60% today.
After his meeting with the Jewish leaders, he planned meet with the Qatari ambassador to Gaza, Muhammad al-Emadi, to discuss humanitarian steps for the Strip, followed by a meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. Next week, Mladenov said, he will be in Egypt to discuss security issues at the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza that is open only intermittently.
He is of the opinion that the best resolution to the Gaza crisis is to restore the area to PA control. Hamas has ruled the area since it kicked Fatah out in a bloody coup in the summer of 2007.
There are those in the Hamas leadership, he said, who are “engaged quite constructively with Egypt” on addressing its security needs and seeking a way to “bring the legitimate Palestinian government to Gaza, Mladenov said.
“You may be a very moderate Hamas leader who wants to resolve the problems of Hamas, but not even the moderate leadership wants to give up security control of the situation on the ground [as required by the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement],” Mladenov said.