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May 23, 2012 11:47 am

Recent Headlines from the Gaza Strip

avatar by Samara Greenberg

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Eight Qassam launchers, seven equipped with operating systems and one armed and ready to launch, in the Gaza Strip. Photo: wiki commons

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The Hamas government in Gaza approved a budget of $869 million for government operations, $174 million of which was described as “public revenue.”

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) canceled its annual summer camp program in Gaza for 2012, stating it failed to raise the $9.9 million it needs. UNRWA’s summer program caters to around 250,000 children at 1,200 sites in the Gaza Strip and employs about 9,000 youths. In 2010 and 2011, UNRWA camps in Gaza were vandalized.

The World Bank announced it would donate $55 million to the West Bank and Gaza for investment in promoting private-sector growth and strengthening public institutions.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) says it has sent $7 billion into Gaza since being evicted in 2007. That number boils down to $120 million a month, more than 40 percent of the PA’s budget, on salaries and services in Gaza. “In return Hamas does not pay for any of the needs of the people in Gaza. On the contrary, it sells the medicine that we send for free, and keeps the money,” said Fatah spokesperson Ahmad Assaf. Hamas denied the claim.

The U.S. will contribute $22.6 million in food and money to the UN World Food Program for the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

A senior Hamas official told the Associated Press that the group has been holding talks with 5 major EU states. Hamas is reportedly seeking assurances that those countries would support any outcome of future Palestinian elections, even if Hamas came out victorious.

Politics:

Hamas held elections for Gaza’s 15-member political bureau in April. According to first reports, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh won the seat at the head of Gaza’s politburo by a large margin, making him the first recognized Hamas political leader in Gaza since Israel assassinated former chief Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi in 2004. Imad al-Alami, a former member of Hamas’s Damascus bureau and recent Gaza resident, was chosen as Haniyeh’s deputy. Also of note, two Hamas members released in the Schalit prisoner swap were elected to the Gaza bureau, while more “moderate” members were not. Hamas denied that Haniyeh was elected to head the Gaza politburo, noting that the government in Gaza and Hamas are separate entities.

In elections held every four years, Hamas members from all four branches—Gaza, West Bank, Israeli prisons, and exile—vote to fill the seats of Hamas’s Shura Council. Shura Council members then select the members to the overall Hamas politburo and the supreme leader; that vote is expected in May. This time, the organization has decided to increase the number of Shura Council and political bureau members. It is believed that Khaled Mashaal—the current leader of the overall Hamas politburo—will be reelected as head of the movement. Mashaal previously stated he would not run again.

According to a report in Haaretz, Mashaal will keep his position but control over areas of the movement will be transferred to Gaza leaders, including the budget and military wing. If true, this transfer of power would signal a significant shift in the movement’s structure and a new focus on the centrality of the leadership in Gaza.

According to a report in Asharq Al-Awsat, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) is planning to hold its first internal elections since the movement’s founding in the 1970s. The elections are a result of internal disputes in the movement’s Gaza branch on PIJ’s policies when it comes to relations with Hamas and Fatah, and the “resistance” against Israel. The report also notes that the group has formed a number of committees “to widen the role of the movement within Palestinian society, instead of restricting it to armed activities”.

The Hamas government executed three Palestinians in Gaza in April, one for his alleged collaboration with Israel. According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, since 2007 Hamas has issued 38 death sentences in Gaza, four of which were upheld this year. The government executed five men in 2010 and at least three in 2011.

According to Hamas Interior Minister Fathi Hammad, the group arrested 10 “veteran and experienced collaborators” with Israel. Hammad added that Hamas plans to start publicly executing Palestinians found guilty of “collaboration”, and that the Hamas government no longer offers clemency to those who “repent”.

In the first interview of its kind, Hamas second-in-command Mousa Abu Marzook sat down with The Jewish Daily Forward. Marzook said that Hamas would consider any Palestinian peace treaty with Israel as nothing more than a hudna—a ceasefire, or armed truce, similar to Israel’s relations with Lebanon or Syria. He also indicated no new flexibility on Hamas’s part when it comes to dealing with Israel—he “was at pains to knock down” suggestions that Hamas may abandon violence against Israel as some analysts have surmised, according to the article.

The Gaza Ministry of Education may teach the Hebrew language to students beginning in 2013. The Palestinian Authority does not teach Hebrew in the West Bank and is angered by the announcement, arguing that the curriculum in Gaza and the West Bank should be standardized.

Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal met with Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed in Cairo in early May to discuss the Palestinian unity government. The two sides made no progress.

Security in Gaza & Egypt:

According to Egyptian officials, Israel warned Cairo that it would take action if Egypt fails to secure the countries’ shared border and the Sinai. In April, two rockets were launched at the Israeli resort town of Eilat from Egypt’s peninsula. Shin Bet later revealed that those rockets originated in Libya.

Also this month, Egypt sent “considerable reinforcements” to tighten security in Sinai and protect the peninsula’s gas pipeline. In April, Egypt’s gas pipeline that runs to Israel and Jordan was bombed for the 14th time since Mubarak’s ouster. Israel, for its part, summoned six reserve battalions to active duty to meet the growing dangers along Israel’s borders with Egypt and Syria.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Sinai is turning into the new “wild west” with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and even al-Qaeda—with the help of Iran—using the region to smuggle arms and as a base for attacks. Netanyahu noted that Egypt and Israel are working in cooperation to stop the terrorists.

According to a report in the Egypt Independent, armed Palestinian groups and a local al-Qaeda branch have attacked Sinai police 50 times since Mubarak’s fall. The groups include Jaljalat, Army of Islam, Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas), as well as al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula. In addition, certain areas of the Sinai, such as Sheikh Zuwayed, central Sinai, and Rafah are now outside the control of security forces.

Egyptian security services arrested three Gaza residents in the Sinai believed to be members of the Popular Resistance Committees. The men were taken into custody after entering Egypt through tunnels to purchase weapons. It is suspected that they were en route to Libya.

Israel plans to arms its helicopters with a system that will defend the aircraft against surface-to-air missiles that Israel believes are now in the hands of Hezbollah and Gaza militants.

Militant leaders in Gaza, including Khaled al-Batsh of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, called on militants to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips to free more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, as was done for Gilad Schalit.

In the beginning of May, an Egyptian policeman was killed and two injured when militants fired a rocket propelled grenade at a checkpoint in northern Sinai.

Crisis:

At the beginning of April, Hamas and the PA agreed to an Egyptian-brokered deal in which an Israeli company will supply fuel to the Gaza Strip and a temporary mechanism will be put in place whereby Hamas can pay the bill through the PA, so that it need not deal directly with Israel.

According to the Palestinian Energy and Natural Resources Authority, the Gaza power station will be fully operational in May after a donation by the Islamic Development Bank funded the installation of four new electrical transformers. The $3 million project is one piece of a deal that will end Gaza’s power outages; the Gazan electricity grid will also be linked to Egypt’s, and the Gaza power plant converted from diesel to gas.

In addition, Qatar donated some $35 million worth of fuel to Gaza in April that “will keep the power station going for more than two months,” according to Ismail Haniyeh. As of the first week in May, that fuel has not yet entered Gaza. Gaza Energy Authority official Ahmad Abu al-Amreen said the reason was because of a disagreement with Israel over which crossing the fuel should be transferred through to Gaza.

Gaza is reportedly facing a serious shortage in medicine. Specifically, 390 varieties of medicines and medical supplies are currently out of stock, and another 150 other kinds is expected to deplete during the next three months affecting more than one-third of the patients in Gaza. Update: On May 1, Ma’an reported that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation plans to donate $65 million to help Gaza’s health sector.

Foot-and-mouth disease, which infects livestock, was found in Gaza; the disease was contracted from sick animals in Egypt. Gaza’s Agriculture Ministry said the situation is under control and they are currently vaccinating the animals. Sick animals cannot be consumed.

2012 Rocket Count:

In April, 10 rockets were launched into Israel, 2 from the Sinai that landed in Eilat.

Exactly 11 years ago from April 16, the first rocket was launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Since then, according to the IDF’s count, over 12,700 rockets and mortars have landed in Israel—an average of three attacks each day. Since 2006, 44 people in Israel have been killed and over 1,500 injured.

In March, 173 rockets and 35 mortars (a total of 208 projectiles) were launched from Gaza, almost one-third of which were long-range rockets. This is compared to the 36 rockets and 1 mortar shell launched at Israel from Gaza in February, and the 9 rockets and 7 mortars launched in January.

This article first appeared in GazaWATCH.

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