Ironically, Friday's deadly explosion in the Jabalya refugee camp came only hours after Hamas announced that it would halt its military-style rallies in the Gaza Strip as of Saturday. Under pressure from the Palestinian public, Hamas and other armed groups last week agreed to stop displaying their weapons in public as part of celebrations over the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The rally in Jabalya was supposed to be the last event of its kind organized by Hamas before the Saturday deadline.
With plans to run in next January's crucial parliamentary elections, Hamas couldn't afford to be seen as defying the will of the majority of Palestinians that is demanding an end to the security fawda [chaos]. Hamas had no problem accepting Abbas's proposal, mainly because it did not require the Islamic movement to surrender its weapons to the PA or dismantle its armed wing.
The tumultuous relationship between the PA and Hamas seemed to be improving following the agreement to remove the weapons from the streets and public squares, with both sides stressing the need to work together to rebuild the Gaza Strip. But the explosion in Jabalya has put the two sides once again on the course of collision, particularly after some Hamas leaders hinted on Saturday at a possible "collusion" between the PA and Israel. Hamas was especially enraged by the PA's swift response to the explosion and unequivocally holding Hamas responsible for the carnage. In an attempt to ease tensions, some PA officials have started lashing out at Israel for "escalating" the situation.
Most political analysts in the Gaza Strip are convinced that the latest cycle of violence does not necessarily signify the death of the tahdiyah [calm] that was announced by the Palestinian factions in Cairo earlier this year. They believe that Hamas had no other choice but to fire rockets at Israel after it had accused Israel of standing behind the Jabalya explosion. Failing to target Israel would have invited more pressure on Hamas from the Palestinian public to remove its gunmen from the streets. Moreover, it would have been seen as an admission on the part of Hamas that the explosion was the result of a "technical failure" or "human error" during a military rally that was held in the middle of a residential area, jeopardizing the lives of women and children.
As for Abbas, his policy of co-opting, rather than coercing, Hamas and other armed groups, remains unchanged. Last week he reassured the armed groups that he would not order the Palestinian security forces to confiscate their weapons. But many Palestinians believe that in any case Abbas has neither the will nor the capability to launch such a crackdown.
On Saturday, Abbas, with the help of the Egyptians, was once again engaged in a diplomatic drive aimed at persuading Hamas to halt its rocket attacks on Israel. Sources close to the Palestinian leader said they got the impression, following a series of phone conversations with Hamas leaders, that Hamas was not interested in an all-out confrontation with Israel at this stage because the movement is very keen on participating in the parliamentary vote. As such, the sources added, "The ball is now in Israel's court. If Israel chooses to exercise restraint, we could see this crisis behind us within a few hours or days. But if Israel opts an incursion, the whole picture could change."
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