Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare

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Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes on residential building in Gaza on Aug. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
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Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes on a building in Gaza City on Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
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Children react following an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Aug.6, 2022. (AFP)
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An Israeli soldier prepares to fire artillery shells toward the Gaza Strip from their position along the border with the Palestinian enclave on Aug. 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Mourners carry the bodies of Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, during their funeral ceremony inside a mosque on August 7, 2022. (Said Khatib / AFP)
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A picture taken on August 5, 2022, shows Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza City in retaliation to earlier Israeli air strikes. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)
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Updated 21 August 2022

Battles between Israel and Palestinian groups trap Gaza in a recurring nightmare

  • Humanitarian situation worsened and civilian toll rose as Israeli military targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad
  • Israel claimed militants in Gaza were planning attacks in retaliation for arrest of a PIJ official in the West Bank

DUBAI: What began as a routine Israeli security operation on Aug. 1 in a flashpoint Palestinian town in the West Bank, in the space of just a few days, took on the trappings of a full-blown conflict. By Sunday night, the death toll on the Palestinian side had soared to 44, including 15 children, when an Egyptian-brokered surprise truce brought welcome relief to the Gaza Strip’s war-weary population.

The target of the Israeli military’s “Operation Breaking Dawn” was the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group, which is backed by Iran and has its headquarters in the Syrian capital Damascus. But the goal of a “quick, clean war,” causing maximum damage to the PIJ with minimal civilian suffering and confined to just the Gaza Strip, could yet elude Israel if the ceasefire deal falls through.

During a recent visit to Tehran to meet the Iranian leadership, Ziad Al-Nakhalah, the PIJ general-secretary, warned that all Israeli towns — including Tel Aviv — could be struck by rockets and urged other Palestinian factions to join forces. For days, Israeli media had been showing images of the skies above the southern and central parts of the country lighting up with rockets and interceptors from the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Predictably, parallels were being drawn between the latest flare-up and the 11-day conflict in May 2021 that left more than 200 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis dead. The big difference this time was that Hamas, the Palestinian group which controls Gaza, did not jump into the fray, a move that cannot be ruled out if the truce fails to hold and civilian casualties continue to mount.




 Children react following an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on Aug.6, 2022. (AFP)

As is invariably the case when Israel launches an assault on Palestinian militant groups, ordinary residents of Gaza neighborhoods in the military’s crosshairs paid the biggest price. Images of half-destroyed buildings and damaged possessions of impoverished civilians starkly contradicted the official Israeli narrative of “a pre-emptive counterterror operation against an immediate threat” posed by the PIJ.

On Saturday, flames poured out of a building in Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike while wounded Palestinians were evacuated by medics. Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that “a five-year-old girl, targeted by the Israeli occupation” was among those killed. “This is not Ukraine! This is #Gaza Strip yesterday!” tweeted Jasika, a Palestinian, along with four photos of destruction under the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack.




Mourners pray over the bodies of six children killed in an explosion in Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza Strip on  Aug. 6, 2022. (AP/Abdel Kareem Hana) 

Abdullah Al-Arayshi summed up the collective plight of Palestinians in Gaza when he told the AFP news agency: “The country is ravaged. We’ve had enough of wars. Our generation has lost its future.” The reference was to the many wars and battles Israel and Hamas have fought since 2007 and which have imposed a staggering cost on Gaza’s 2 million Palestinian residents.




Palestinians inspect the ruins of a building destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on August 6, 2022. (AFP)

Egypt, whose mediation has helped to end many Gaza flare-ups in the past, once again stepped in, reportedly sending a delegation of officials to Israel to act as a go-between. The PIJ leadership may not have been in the mood to negotiate, but its options were limited.

On Saturday, the group lost a second senior commander, Khaled Mansour, in an Israeli military strike on a house in the Rafah refugee camp in southern Gaza. The previous day, the PIJ had acknowledged the death of senior leader Taysir Al-Jabari in an airstrike on a building in the west of Gaza City.




Relatives react during the funeral of Khaled Mansour, an Islamic Jihad commander killed in an Israeli air strike on Rafah on August 7, 2022. (Said Khatib / AFP)

The killing of Al-Jabari’s predecessor, Baha Abu Al-Ata, in Gaza by the Israeli military in 2019 sparked a five-day conflict that left 34 Palestinians, including many PIJ fighters, dead and 111 injured. Then, as now, Israel claimed that the PIJ was plotting an imminent attack.

This time around, Israel said that PIJ militants in Gaza were planning to hit southern Israel in retaliation for the arrest of Bassem Al-Saadi, a senior member of the PIJ’s political wing in the West Bank, during the Aug. 1 security operation in Jenin. Al-Saadi had been living there since February 2013, when he was released from an Israel jail after serving two years.




In this photo taken on April 17, 2022, Islamic Jihad fighters enter an underground tunnel in the Gaza strip. (Mahmud Hams / AFP) 

Jenin has been a frequent target of Israeli arrest operations in the West Bank since a wave of deadly attacks by Palestinians hit Israel in late March as two of the attackers came from the town.

“It seems that Israel acted on intelligence reports that the PIJ was about to launch a number of attacks against Israel and Israel decided to take the initiative in this case to deliver a big blow to the PIJ,” Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer and Middle East analyst at Reichman University, told Arab News.

“Based on this thesis, it was difficult for Israel to avoid this action. If you know your enemy is going to attack, then you take away the initiative from it, and that really turns the tables on your enemy.”

Israel’s rationale, though, failed to convince not only Palestinian civilians in the line of fire but also critics of the military doctrine of pre-emptive force, including the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a tweet on Saturday, Francesca Albanese said: “I condemn Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza to allegedly ‘deter’ Islamic Jihad’s possible retaliation for its leader’s arrest. As Intl’ Law only permits the use of force in self-defense, Operation Breaking Dawn is a flagrant act of aggression. Illegal. Immoral. Irresponsible.”

In addition to the diplomatic backlash, Israel’s government, led by Yair Lapid, a politician with no military record or experience in senior security posts, would sooner or later have had to contend with the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

There has been almost no reconstruction in Gaza since the May 2021 war, and the population remains mired in poverty, with unemployment hovering around 50 percent. Israel has closed its crossing with the territory and, on Saturday, reports said the only power station there shut down after Israel called off an expected fuel delivery.

Yahya Al-Sarraj, the mayor of Gaza City, said on Sunday that municipal services were being affected by the lack of power. “This will minimize the supply of domestic water (at a time of peak consumption during July and August),” he said. “Raw sewage will be spilled to the sea because the plants are not functioning in full capacity.”

Unsurprisingly, the potential of a propaganda coup was not lost on the PIJ’s patrons in Tehran. President Ebrahim Raisi was quoted by Iran’s Fars News agency as saying that “the resistance of the people of Gaza will speed up the decline of this child-killing (Zionist) regime.”




Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi meets with Ziyad Nakhaleh, secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement, in Tehran on August 4, 2022. (WANA via REUTERS)

Separately, in remarks reported by Iranian state television on Saturday, Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, said: “The Israelis will pay yet another heavy price for their recent crime.”

Earlier, Iran’s Tasnim news agency quoted Salami as saying: “In Lebanon, tens of thousands, even more than one hundred thousand missiles, are ready to be fired to create a hell for the Zionists at the moment of making the divine predestination happen.”

Javedanfar considers the PIJ-Iranian nexus a probable second reason for Israel’s decision to crack down on the group. “Given that the Israeli attacks happened when the head of the PIJ was in Tehran, the Iranian context of the current operation cannot be overlooked,” he told Arab News.




Palestinians rally in Lebanon's refugee camp of Burj al-Barajneh on Aug. 7, 2022, in support of the Islamic Jihad group march in its fight with Israel. (Anwar Amro / AFP) 

“The PIJ is an Iranian proxy, much more an Iranian proxy than Hamas, and is more dependent on Iran than Hamas. Israel does not want to let Iran dictate the rules of the game through its proxy in Gaza. I think Israel is trying to disarm Iran’s options for undermining Israeli security in both Gaza and Syria.”

Lapid, the Israeli prime minister, had averred that “Israel isn’t interested in a broader conflict in Gaza but will not shy away from one either.” Indeed, a broader conflict was sure to expose Israel to not just higher civilian casualties but also greater political heat, including potentially from the Arab signatories of the Abraham Accords.

In the best-case scenario for Israel, the PIJ’s military wing would have been decapitated, the civilian death toll in Gaza would have stayed low, and the diplomatic storm would have passed quickly. But given the dark shadow that the Palestinian conflict continues to cast over the Arab-Israeli alignments reshaping Middle East geopolitics, Israel could still have ended up winning the battle yet losing the war.

 

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Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Updated 03 December 2022

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

  • Canada slaps more sanctions on regime

JEDDAH: Black-clad women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.

Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.

“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women dressed in body-covering chador garments chanted in videos posted on Twitter.

Women-led protests have swept Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.

Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, with the largest toll in Sistan-Baluchistan on Iran’s southeastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based non-governmental organization.

“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the protests by women in Zahedan, which has seen men take to the streets after Friday prayers for more than two months.

“The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he said.

“Women and minorities, who have for more than four decades been treated as second-class citizens, are empowered through these protests to come out to the streets and demand their fundamental human rights.”

Baluchi women were among the “most oppressed” in Iran and their protests were the most organized by them so far since demonstrations broke out across the country, Amiry-Moghaddam added.

Scores of men also took to the streets again on Friday, chanting “we don’t want a child-killing government,” footage posted online by activists showed. Security forces were seen opening fire with bird shots and tear gas on male protesters in Taftan, a locality in Sistan-Baluchistan, in a video published by IHR.

A prominent Sunni cleric said it was wrong to charge protesters with capital offenses. Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting Sunni voice in the Shiite-ruled country, said it was wrong for the hardline judiciary to charge protesters with “moharebeh” — a term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.

Meanwhile,  Canada has issued additional sanctions against Iran over its denial of rights for women and girls and for cracking down on peaceful protests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said.

The latest sanctions target four individuals and five entities that Ottawa said were tied to Tehran’s “systematic human rights violations” and actions that “threaten international peace and security.” She added that Canada “will not stand idly by while the regime’s human rights violations increase in scope and intensity against the Iranian people.”


Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

Updated 02 December 2022

Syria resisting Russia’s efforts to broker Turkiye summit, sources say

  • Erdogan's government supports rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar al-Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism
  • Assad says it is Turkiye which has backed terrorism by supporting an array of fighters including Islamist factions

BEIRUT/ANKARA: Syria is resisting Russian efforts to broker a summit with Turkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan, three sources said on Friday, after more than a decade of bitter enmity since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war.
However, two Turkish sources, including a senior official, disputed that Damascus was delaying and said that things were on track for an eventual meeting between the leaders.
Erdogan’s government supports rebel fighters who tried to topple President Bashar Assad and has accused the Syrian leader of state terrorism, saying earlier in the conflict that peace efforts could not continue under his rule.
Assad says it is Turkiye which has backed terrorism by supporting an array of fighters including Islamist factions and launching repeated military incursions inside northern Syria. Ankara is readying another possible operation, after blaming Syrian Kurdish fighters for a bombing in Istanbul.
Russia helped Assad turn the tide of the war in his favor and says it is seeking a political end to the conflict and wants to bring the two leaders together for talks.
Erdogan has signalled readiness for rapprochement.
Speaking a week after he shook hands with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi last month, after repeatedly saying he could not meet a leader who came to power in a coup, he said Turkiye could “also get things on track with Syria.”
“There can be no resentment in politics,” he said in a televised discussion at the weekend.
However, three sources with knowledge of Syria’s position on possible talks said Assad had rejected a proposal to meet Erdogan with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Two of the sources said Damascus believed such a meeting could boost Erdogan ahead of Turkish elections next year, especially if it addressed Ankara’s goal of returning some of the 3.6 million Syrian refugees from Turkiye.
“Why hand Erdogan a victory for free? No rapprochement will happen before the elections,” one of the two said, adding that Syria had also turned down the idea of a foreign ministers’ meeting.
The third source, a diplomat with knowledge of the proposal, said Syria “sees such a meeting as useless if it does not come with anything concrete, and what they have asked for so far is the full withdrawal of Turkish troops.”
Turkish officials said this week the army needed just a few days to be ready for a ground incursion into northern Syria, where it has already carried out artillery and air strikes.
But the government has also said it is ready for talks with Damascus if they focus on security at the border, where Ankara wants Syrian Kurdish YPG fighters pushed from the frontier and refugees moved into ‘safe zones’.
An Assad-Erdogan meeting could be possible “in the not too distant future,” the senior Turkish official said.
“Putin is slowly preparing the path for this,” the official said. “It would be the beginning of a major change in Syria and would have very positive effects on Turkiye. Russia would benefit too... given it is stretched in many areas.”


US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria

Updated 03 December 2022

US-led forces resume normal patrols in Syria

  • They were reduced after Turkish strikes that began on Nov. 20 in Kurdish-controlled areas

JEDDAH: A US-led coalition fighting terrorists resumed regular patrols in Kurdish-held areas of northeast Syria on Friday after earlier Turkish airstrikes.

Patrols were reduced following the Turkish strikes that began on Nov. 20 in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq, in response to a deadly Istanbul bombing that Ankara blamed on Kurdish groups.

Hundreds of American troops are in Syria as part of the fight against remnants of Daesh.

Two four-vehicle patrols bearing US flags set off separately from a base in Rmeilan in Hasakah province. A vehicle belonging to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces accompanied each convoy, which traveled in different directions toward Syria’s borders.

The usual 20 weekly patrols had dropped to around five or six following the Turkish strikes.

The US supports the SDF, which is the Kurds’ de facto army in the area, and led the battle that dislodged Daesh from the last scraps of their Syrian territory in 2019.

FASTFACT

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Turkish counterpart on Wednesday that Washington was in ‘strong opposition to a new Turkish military operation in Syria.’

Turkiye said it struck targets of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which dominate the SDF but which Ankara sees as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor with a vast network of sources on the ground, said patrols were also seen on Friday in Deir Ezzor province further south.

The SDF has long warned that fighting off a new Turkish incursion would divert resources away from protecting a prison holding Daesh fighters or fighting Daesh sleeper cells still waging hit-and-run attacks in Syria.

Sheikhmous Ahmed, the head of the displacement department in Syria’s northeast, said that Turkish raids in late November had disrupted operations in and around Al-Hol, a detention camp where women and children affiliated with Daesh fighters are held.


Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

Updated 02 December 2022

Two Palestinians killed in Jenin city camp raid

  • Israel strips human rights defender Salah Al-Hamouri of his Jerusalem residency, plans to deport him to France

RAMALLAH: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinians on Thursday and injured two others during a West Bank arrest raid that sparked gun battles, confirmed Palestinian medical sources.

The Jenin city refugee camp raid at dawn also resulted in the arrest of nine people. 

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh warned of the severe consequences of the Israeli killings. He called on the world’s countries to intervene.

A general strike to mourn the two who were killed, Mohammed Al-Saadi and Naim Al-Zubaidi, was declared in the city.

According to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health, eight Palestinians have been killed and 10 injured in the West Bank during the past 72 hours.

Shtayyeh accused Israeli forces of “benefiting from the absence of accountability and punishment, under an international policy based on double standards.”

Maj. Gen. Akram Rajoub, governor of Jenin, told Arab News that an atmosphere of pain, anger and sadness has overwhelmed the city due to the actions of the Israeli army, which “violates Palestinian lands and commits cold-blooded killing.”

He told Arab News that 54 Palestinians had been killed in Jenin since the beginning of this year.

Most of them were not involved in stone-throwing incidents, and they were not armed. Dozens were wounded, and many others have been detained.

“This is targeted killing and systematic state terrorism against the Palestinians,” the governor told Arab News.

Israeli armed forces issued an alert for expected rocket fire from Gaza toward Israel following the murder of the Jenin Brigade commander in Thursday’s early morning raid.

The Wall and Settlement Resistance Commission said that Israeli security authorities and settlers carried out 833 attacks against Palestinians during November.

It said the aggressive acts ranged from direct assaults on citizens to vandalism, land razing, the confiscation of property and more.

The attacks were concentrated in the Ramallah governorate with 170 attacks, followed by the Hebron governorate with 140, then the Nablus governorate with 111, said the commission.

In another development, Israeli authorities have decided to deport Palestinian prisoner Salah Al-Hamouri from East Jerusalem to France after the expiration of his detention on Sunday, Dec. 4.

Israelis arrested Al-Hamouri on March 22, and since then, he has been under administrative detention with no trial or known charge.

Human Rights Watch has called on the Israeli authorities to free Al-Hamouri and cancel their decision to deport him.

Activists said that Palestinian human rights defender Al-Hamouri “is at imminent risk of deportation” after Israel’s Supreme Court rejected on Nov. 30 an appeal against the Interior Ministry’s decision to revoke his Jerusalem residency status on the grounds of “breach of allegiance.”

This decision leaves Al-Hamouri with no legal status in Jerusalem. He will thus likely be deported on Sunday to France, as he also has French citizenship, human rights activists said.

“Salah Al-Hamouri’s case illustrates so many of the restrictive measures Israel is employing against Palestinians, including human rights defenders,” Jessica Montel, executive director of human rights organization HaMoked, told Arab News.

Among these are the “invasive surveillance technology, the criminalization of human rights organizations, the use of administrative detention, and the revocation of Jerusalem residency,” she said. “This is outrageous.

“As a member of the indigenous population of Jerusalem, Al-Hamouri owes no allegiance to the state of Israel. The fact that his residency was revoked largely based on secret evidence only exacerbates the injustice.”

Hassan Al-Hamouri, 66, father of Salah Al-Hamouri, told Arab News that the Israeli police summoned him on Nov. 29 and asked him not to raise Palestinian flags when receiving Salah on Sunday and not to organize official receptions.

He also said that the number of those receiving him should not exceed 20 at his house. 

Following this, Salah’s lawyer, Leah Tsemel, tried to talk to the police officer to find out what happened, but he refused to inform the lawyer anything.

The family later learned that Salah would be deported to France if he was released from Hadarim prison on Sunday.

Israeli authorities had previously deported Salah’s wife, who was pregnant in 2016, to France.

Palestinian human rights activists are concerned about Israel’s resumption of the deportation policy against Palestinians after it had been halted for many years.

Qadura Faris, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, told Arab News in a phone interview that deportation is the “harshest deterrent punishment practiced against Palestinian prisoners and citizens.

“Al-Hamouri is not accused of practicing violent acts against Israel, but rather he is a human rights activist and an administrative detainee without a specific charge. If such a person is expelled, what about the rest of the Palestinian prisoners?” 

Activists say 4,700 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli prisons, while the number of Palestinians detained in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip has reached 6,300 since the beginning of the year.


Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

Updated 02 December 2022

Iran probes killing of man celebrating World Cup loss

  • "An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case," Gilan province's prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said
  • Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations

TEHRAN: Iran said on Thursday it had opened an investigation into the death of a man who was shot while celebrating Iran’s World Cup defeat to arch enemy the United States.
The loss eliminated Iran’s national football team from the tournament in Qatar on Tuesday night, drawing a mixed response from pro- and anti-government supporters.
Following the match, “a person named Mehran Samak died suspiciously after being hit by shotgun pellets in the city of Bandar Anzali,” Gilan province’s prosecutor Mehdi Fallahmiri said, quoted by the judiciary’s Mizan Online website.
“An investigation has been opened and a local prosecutor has been assigned to the case,” he added.
Human rights groups based abroad said Samak, 27, had been shot dead by Iranian security forces after honking his car horn during celebrations that followed Iran’s loss to the United States.
The result sparked both scenes of joy and despair among Iranians in a country divided by protests that flared over the September 16 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
The 22-year-old, an Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after falling into a coma following her arrest for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
The head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Major General Hossein Salami, said on Thursday Iran’s enemies had influenced youths who were happy with the football result.
“Today, they (the enemies) are all trying to sow the seeds of despair in the hearts of young people and some of them even showed their satisfaction afterwards and that they are happy with the elimination of the national football team,” he said.
“We must take measures to serve the people, because poverty and misery are also among the enemies of the country,” Salami said, according to the official news agency IRNA.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest sparked by Amini’s death.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights said on Tuesday that at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”