Friday, February 13, 2015

Frustration in Gaza

On the 26th of August last year, Israel and Gaza agreed to a ceasefire deal, with the help of Egypt’s President al-Sisi, that would see fishing restrictions gradually lifted and an end of the blockade of border crossings into Gaza. The deal saw the end to 50 days of fighting that claimed the lives of well over 2000 people, the vast majority of which were Palestinians. For the optimists it appeared, given the concessions made by Israel, to provide the stepping stone towards a potential peace deal. Yet frustration seems to be growing in Gaza and there are signs that the ceasefire deal is at real risk.

There have been strains on the ceasefire deal since its inception in late August: in September Gaza fishermen were reportedly fired on by the Israeli navy despite claiming to have been within the allotted 6 mile fishing limit and in December rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, to which Israel responded with airstrikes. Perhaps most importantly though, in Gaza the conditions of the deal are not perceived to have been upheld by Israel. The opening of border crossings was a necessity to obtain the materials needed to reconstruct the many homes in Gaza destroyed during the conflict. Whilst Israel has provided building materials through the border – around 400 trucks a day pass through for this purpose - the borders are heavily monitored. The view from Palestine is epitomised by Palestinian journalist Hai al-Masri, who writes that “the siege and closure of the crossings have become worse than at any other time”. With thousands of people in Gaza still homeless and living in tents, tensions are simmering as a result.

The division between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is also playing a part in this. Last month, for example, Hamas set up a makeshift outpost and patrolled at the Palestinian Authority’s checkpoint; Israel responded by only allowing Gazans with humanitarian emergencies through the border. The strain in Gaza certainly seems to be increasing. Militants have reportedly conducted several attacks against Hamas, including blowing up the car of a Hamas security official on January 20th. So, although Hamas themselves seem inclined to honour the ceasefire for the moment – they have been attempting to prevent the rocket fire into Israel in December, the pressure on them and Gazan people is mounting. Ceasefires between the two sides have been historically precarious and have been consistently broken. This factor, along with the internal disputes in Gaza and the fact that the borders are seemingly no more open than before, mean the threat to this current deal is rising.

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