[News] Gaza: Crushed Between Israel and Egypt
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 2 18:58:53 EDT 2013
October 02, 2013
*Partners in Crime*
Gaza: Crushed Between Israel and Egypt
by JONATHAN COOK
The furore over the recent chemical weapons attack in Syria has
overshadowed disturbing events to the south, as Egypt's generals wage a
quiet war of attrition against the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
Hamas has found itself increasingly isolated, politically and
geographically, since the Egyptian army ousted the country's first
democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, in early July.
Hamas is paying the price for its close ties to Egypt's Muslim
Brotherhood, the Islamic movement that briefly took power through the
ballot box following the revolutionary protests that toppled dictator
Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Since the army launched its coup three months ago, jailing the
Brotherhood's leadership and last week outlawing the movement's
activities and freezing its assets, Hamas has become a convenient
scapegoat for all signs of unrest.
Hamas is blamed for the rise of militant Islamic groups in the Sinai,
many drawn from disgruntled local Bedouin tribes, which have been
attacking soldiers, government institutions and shipping through the
Suez canal. The army claims a third of the Islamists it has killed in
recent operations originated from Gaza.
At an army press conference last month, several Palestinians "confessed"
to smuggling arms from Gaza into Sinai, while an Egyptian commander,
Ahmed Mohammed Ali, accused Hamas of "targeting the Egyptian army
The Egyptian media have even tied Hamas to a car bombing in Cairo last
month which nearly claimed the life of the new interior minister,
Lurking in the shadows is the army's fear that, should the suppressed
Muslim Brotherhood choose the path of violence, it may find a useful
ally in a strong Hamas.
A crackdown on the Palestinian Islamic movement has been all but
inevitable, and on a scale even Mr Mubarak would have shrunk from. The
Egyptian army has intensified the blockade along Egypt's single short
border with Gaza, replicating that imposed by Israel along the other three.
Over the past weeks, the army has destroyed hundreds of tunnels through
which Palestinians smuggle fuel and other necessities in short supply
because of Israel's siege.
Egypt has bulldozed homes on its side to establish a "buffer zone", as
Israel did inside Gaza a decade ago when it still occupied the enclave
directly, to prevent more tunnels being dug.
That has plunged Gaza's population into hardship, and dealt a harsh blow
to the tax revenues Hamas raises on the tunnel trade. Unemployment is
rocketing and severe fuel shortages mean even longer power cuts.
Similarly, Gaza's border crossing with Egypt at Rafah -- the only access
to the outside for most students, medical patients and business people
-- is now rarely opened, even to the Hamas leadership.
And the Egyptian navy has been hounding Palestinians trying to fish off
Gaza's coast, in a zone already tightly delimited by Israel. Egypt has
been firing at boats and arresting crews close to its territorial
waters, citing security.
Fittingly, a recent cartoon in a Hamas newspaper showed Gaza squeezed
between pincers -- one arm Israel, the other Egypt. Sami Abu Zuhri, a
Hamas spokesperson, was recently quoted saying Egypt was "trying to
outmatch the Israelis in tormenting and starving our people".
Hamas is short of regional allies. Its leader Khaled Meshal fled his
Syrian base early in the civil war, alienating Iran in the process.
Other recent supporters, such as Turkey and Qatar, are also keeping
Hamas fears mounting discontent in Gaza, and particularly a
demonstration planned for November modelled on this summer's mass
protests in Egypt that helped to bring down Morsi and the Muslim
Hamas' political rival, Fatah -- and the Palestinian Authority, based in
the West Bank -- are reported to be behind the new protest movement.
The prolonged efforts by Fatah and Hamas to strike a unity deal are now
a distant memory. In late August the PA annnounced it would soon be
taking "painful decisions" about Hamas, assumed to be a reference to
declaring it a "rogue entity" and thereby cutting off funding.
The PA sees in Hamas' isolation and its own renewed ties to the Egyptian
leadership a chance to take back Gaza.
As ever, Israel is far from an innocent bystander.
After the unsettling period of Muslim Brotherhood rule, the Egyptian and
Israeli armies -- their strategic interests always closely aligned --
have restored security cooperation. According to media reports, Israel
even lobbied Washington following the July coup to ensure Egypt
continued to receive generous US aid handouts -- as with Israel, mostly
in the form of military assistance.
Israel has turned a blind eye to Egypt pouring troops, as well as tanks
and helicopters, into Sinai in violation of the 1979 peace treaty.
Israel would rather Egypt mop up the Islamist threat on their shared
The destruction of the tunnels, meanwhile, has sealed off the main
conduit by which Hamas armed itself against future Israeli attacks.
Israel is also delighted to see Fatah and Hamas sapping their energies
in manoeuvring against each other. Political unity would have
strengthened the Palestinians' case with the international community;
divided, they can be easily played off against the other.
That cynical game is in full swing. A week ago Israel agreed for the
first time in six years to allow building materials into Gaza for
private construction, and to let in more fuel. A newly approved pipe
will double the water supply to Gaza.
These measures are designed to bolster the PA's image in Gaza, as
payback for returning to the current futile negotiations, and undermine
support for Hamas.
With Egypt joining the blockade, Israel now has much firmer control over
what goes in and out, allowing it to punish Hamas while improving its
image abroad by being generous with "humanitarian" items for the wider
Gaza is dependent again on Israel's good favour. But even Israeli
analysts admit the situation is far from stable. Sooner or later,
something must give. And Hamas may not be the only ones caught in the storm.
////*Jonathan Cook* won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for
Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations:
Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East"
Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human
(Zed Books). ///His new website is www.jonathan-cook.net
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