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Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza for second day; Militants respond with rockets

Written by Javed Iqbal

Credit…Oded Balilty/Associated Press

Hamas remained largely on the sidelines of fighting in Gaza on Saturday, raising the chances that the current round of cross-border violence could be limited in both scope and duration.

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

One reason could be work. Since the last major Gaza conflict last May, Israel has changed its policy towards Gaza in what officials have described as an attempt to preserve the peace, offering financial incentives to the 2 million civilians in the coastal enclave and raising the stakes for Hamas if it decides to join 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 over the past few months, the largest number since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and Israel has promised to raise the number to 20,000.

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

In addition to the job permits, Israel has also allowed improvements in recent months that have expanded water and electricity supplies in Gaza and expanded capacity for imports and exports.

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

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

Major General Ghasan Alyan, the head of the military agency responsible for liaison in civil affairs in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, delivered a stark message to Hamas on Friday, outlining the choice it faces in terms of supporting Islamic Jihad or stay out of it. match round.

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

Hamas’s decision to remain on the sidelines for now recalled a brief round of cross-border fighting in 2019. That cycle, too, opened with an Israeli airstrike that killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander, Baha Abu al-Ata, along with his wife, Asmaa Abu al-Ata, and caused 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 participatecontaining the extent of hostilities.

By contrast, it was Hamas that started the last major Gaza fire in May 2021, when it launched a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem after weeks of rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions and clashes in the disputed city.

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Javed Iqbal

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