Israeli Airstrikes Hit Gaza for 2nd Day; Militants Respond With Rockets

Israeli Airstrikes Hit Gaza for 2nd Day; Militants Respond With Rockets

Credit…Oded Balilty/Associated Press

Hamas has largely stayed on the sidelines in the fighting in Gaza on Saturday, increasing the likelihood that the current round of cross-border violence could be limited both in scope and duration.

The leader of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, has made non-committal statements saying Israel bears full responsibility for the latest escalation without commenting on Hamas’s own intentions.

One reason could be jobs. Since the last major conflict in Gaza in May last year, Israel has shifted its policy toward Gaza in what officials have described as an effort to keep the peace, by providing economic incentives to the 2 million civilians in the coastal enclave and the commitment to Hamas should it decide to join the hostilities.

Israeli security officials have issued thousands of permits to Gaza residents, allowing them to enter Israel daily to work in agriculture and construction. About 14,000 Palestinian workers from Gaza have worked in Israel in recent months, the largest number since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and Israel has promised to increase the number to 20,000.

Aside from that economic stimulus, the Israeli military has also warned of the dire consequences of another major round of fighting in Gaza. Military officials have published what they describe as intelligence reports showing Hamas tunnels and other military infrastructure being built in the heart of Gaza’s residential areas, suggesting civilian casualties would be almost inevitable in a military campaign.

In addition to work permits, Israel has also allowed improvements in recent months that have increased Gaza’s water and electricity supplies and increased capacity for imports and exports.

More medical equipment has been imported and exports of agricultural products from Gaza and the fishing, textile and furniture industries nearly doubled in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, military officials said.

But in recent days, when Islamic Jihad threatened to retaliate from Gaza for Israel’s arrest of one of the group’s senior commanders in the West Bank, Israel closed the border crossings, preventing the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. was prevented. Israeli residents living close to the border were effectively placed under a curfew, with all roads closed in the areas close to Gaza.

Major General Ghasan Alyan, the head of the military agency responsible for liaising with civilian affairs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, delivered a grim message to Hamas on Friday, outlining its choice to To support Islamic Jihad or to stay out of this area. battle round.

“The responsibility lies with Hamas,” he said in a video released on the agency’s Arab Facebook page. “Is it more about helping the people of Gaza, or about helping dissident organizations?”

Hamas’s decision to remain on the sidelines so far was reminiscent of a brief round of cross-border fighting in 2019. That cycle, too, began with an Israeli airstrike in which a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, joined forces with his wife, Asmaa Abu al-Ata, and instigated Islamic Jihad to fire hundreds of rockets at Israel.

Over the next two days, Israel killed 34 people in Gaza, including about two dozen militants and several children. But Hamas chose not to participate, given the scale of the hostilities.

In contrast, it was Hamas that sparked the last major conflagration in Gaza in May 2021, when it fired a barrage of rockets into Jerusalem after weeks of mounting Israeli-Palestinian tensions and clashes in the disputed city.