IDF bracing for Gaza tension

Hamas said it will lower violence to give Egyptian mediation a chance.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking with IDF officers during a special Gaza evaluation meeting  (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaking with IDF officers during a special Gaza evaluation meeting
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
The IDF is bracing yet again for more Friday violence along the Gaza border fence, even amid reports of progress in Egypt- and UN-mediated efforts to restore quiet to area.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders met in Gaza and reportedly decided to lower the level of violence, though not stop the weekly protests at the fence.
Following a meeting that included Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar, the various Palestinian factions – including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front – issued a statement saying that the “March of Return,” which began on March 30, will continue but without violence along the fence and incendiary balloons, and that protests are to be held at a distance of 500 meters from the barrier.
The groups issued a statement saying that the “March of Return” will continue until they reach their goal of “removing the blockade.”
The statement also expressed appreciation to “Egyptian, Qatari and UN efforts to ease the blockade and remove it.”
An Egyptian intelligence team – which has been at the center of effort to restore calm to pre-March levels – was in Gaza on Thursday. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh on Friday. His decision to cut off funding to Gaza has, according to Israel, fueled tensions in the Strip.
The apparent decision to tamp down the violence follows Israel’s agreement to allow Qatari-funded fuel to enter the Gaza Strip, to allow funds from the emirate to pay Hamas salaries and to extend fishing rights along the Gaza coast.
Earlier this week, a senior diplomatic official made clear that Israel would work with various international actors – including Qatar – to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and try to restore quiet to the area without having to embark on a major military offensive.
The official also said that last week the sides were on the cusp of an agreement, but they had dissolved with Friday’s violence at the fence and Islamic Jihad – acting on orders from Syria – firing a barrage of nearly 40 rockets at Israel.
The Palestinian factions’ apparent decision to tamp down the violence, at least until Sunday, is designed to let Egypt and the United Nations to continue their efforts to restore the situation to what it was prior to the start of the “March of Return.”
Both Egypt and the UN hope to create a long-term understanding, or even a cease-fire, that would ease the humanitarian situation for the two million people living in Gaza and prevent further outbreaks of violence between the IDF and Hamas.
Egyptian negotiators have also proposed a three-year agreement to reconcile the rival factions of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, according to an Army Radio report.
The proposed agreement would be enacted in stages. The PA would first take responsibility for civil services and the government ministries in the Gaza Strip that are now under Hamas control.
In its second phase, the PA would be in control of the police and the border crossings. If all went well for three years, Hamas’s military wing Izzadin al-Qassam would be placed under PA control as well.
Separately, elections would be held for a new Palestinian parliament and a new constitution would be drawn up, according to Army Radio.
The plan was designed by Egypt’s Gen. Ahmad Abd al-Khaliq, who has made four trips to Gaza and the West Bank in the past two weeks to secure agreements for the plan. He has also met with senior Israeli Defense Ministry officials.
The Egyptian plan includes detailed timetables and formulas for each stage. Hamas is prepared to consider the plan but is waiting for a response from Abbas.
Abbas in the past has rejected any plan that did not immediately place the security services under his control. He fears that any plan that maintains a separate security force for Hamas makes it more likely that the West Bank and Gaza could become two separate entities rather than one unified state, according to Army Radio.