A mounting tension between Palestinian militant groups and Israel as well as the mediators’ failure to restore calm in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip increase the possibility of an open confrontation between the two sides.
Israeli warplanes launched early on Friday intensive airstrikes on training facilities and underground military infrastructure that belong to Hamas’ armed wing al-Qassam Brigades in the besieged coastal enclave.
According to an Israeli army spokesman’s statement, the Israeli airstrikes were a response to firing six projectiles and dozens of incendiary balloons into southern Israel that caused several large fires in the area.
The tension between the two sides has been escalating since Aug. 6, when unknown masked young men launched dozens of arson balloons into southern Israel.
The tension has impaired the mediation of Egypt, Qatar, and the United Nations, who brokered two years ago a calm understanding for easing the Israeli blockade imposed on the enclave.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov warned that “under the current situation, no mediation efforts can succeed to prevent escalation or to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip.”
Mladenov tweeted Friday that Gaza militants should stop launching projectiles and incendiary balloons, and called on Israel to ease the blockade and allow fuel into Gaza to operate the power station there.
He added that the situation in Gaza is further deteriorating due to a rapid increase of COVID-19 cases among the populations amid a dilapidated health system, lack of power, increasing unemployment, military activity, and blockade.
The Hamas-run ministry of health had recorded two deaths and 80 new COVID-19 cases since the outbreak of coronavirus disease in densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip.
Israel imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip after the Hamas movement had violently seized control of it and routed the security forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas stressed that Israel should completely lift the blockade, but Israel refused and insisted that it would ease the blockade only if Hamas stops launching projectiles and arson balloons.
In order to put heavier pressure on Hamas to stop launching projectiles and balloons, Israel carried out airstrikes on its facilities, banned fishing off the Gaza Strip coast, and prevented the shipment of fuel, construction materials and other stuff except food and medicine into Gaza.
Amid the outbreak of coronavirus in Gaza, the Israeli measures on the Gaza Strip, home of two million people, worsened the humanitarian living situation in the coastal enclave.
Fawzi Barhoum, the Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said in a press statement that launching projectiles and arson balloons is a direct response to the Israeli occupation’s escalation against the Palestinians.
“The Israeli occupation is fully responsible for the consequences of its escalation on the Gaza Strip, mainly keeping the siege imposed and attacking military posts and facilities amid the spread of coronavirus in Gaza,” he said.
An Egyptian security intelligence delegation had failed last week to convince the two sides to restore calm, while the Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi, who is currently in Gaza, still negotiates with Hamas leaders without reaching any breakthrough.
Hamas demands that Israel abides by calm understandings, including the expansion of fishing zone off the Gaza coast to 20 nautical miles and implementing infrastructure projects in water and electricity sectors.
The movement also demanded the Israeli lifting of restrictions on import and export of products, besides allowing an increase of Qatar’s financial grant for humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip.
Adnan Abu Amer, a Gaza-based political analyst, told Xinhua that “Israel is trying to impose calm for calm and not calm for lifting the siege.”
“It is clear that the Arab and international mediation for calm has not achieved any breakthrough amid an exchange of military messages between the Palestinian factions and Israel through a calculated escalation,” he said.
Abu Amer added that amid the spread of coronavirus in Gaza, the Palestinian pressure on Israel to end the siege “will increase.”
“In case Israel neglects this message and doesn’t lift the siege, the situation will get out of control, and this may push for an open confrontation between the Palestinian factions and Israel,” he said.