Hamas has toned down its terrorist activities in Gaza but has allowed Islamic Jihad to continue firing rockets against civilian targets in the western Negev and to plan suicide bombings, a senior IDF officer told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday. Col. Ronen Cohen, deputy head of Military Intelligence's Research Division, said Hamas has focused its anti-Israel activity on firing mortars, mostly at military targets along the Gaza border. But he warned that Hamas had strengthened its military forces in Gaza and that its ability to transfer information, documents and money in and out of the Strip via Egypt would grow, even though the border with Sinai was currently closed.
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If things remained as they were, he said, the influence of Hamas in Gaza would continue to grow.
On the governmental level, Hamas wants to establish religious Islamic rule in the Gaza Strip. It was a slow process that was just in its first phases, Cohen said.
In the West Bank, Fatah - under the leadership of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas - wanted to show the Palestinian public that Hamas had failed in Gaza and that life there was very hard. Still, said Cohen, the PA continued to pay salaries to its people in Gaza.
Cohen also said Fatah security forces had decreased their anti-Hamas activity in the West Bank since its crackdown there in the first few days after the Gaza takeover.
"The dust has settled [in the West Bank] and life has returned to normal."
He said Hamas could still be rehabilitated politically in the West Bank, where it did well in many places in the last PA elections.
As long as the IDF remained in control of the West Bank, said Cohen, "Hamas won't attain the same level of military strength that it possesses in Gaza."
There was currently no communication between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank, he said.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who was also at the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, said that such communication would be revived over time, because the two parties had a joint national interest.
"There will be communication between Abbas and [Syrian-based Hamas chief Khaled] Mashaal and there will be joint activity between the two groups," said Ashkenazi.
Hamas is also interested in resuming communications with Arab nations in the region such as Egypt and Saudia Arabia, said Cohen.
Mashaal had not been in charge of the Hamas take over in Gaza, but since then he had regained control of the area, both Cohen and Ashkenazi said.
Asheknazi said Hamas had not intended to take over Gaza as quickly as it did, but the process took on a life of its own.
"We were not surprised by what happened in Gaza," he said.