Assassination in Gaza - new stage in Hamas-Israel fight or an inside job?

Published March 27th, 2017 - 05:25 GMT
Mazen Fuqaha, the assassinated Hamas commander. (Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades)
Mazen Fuqaha, the assassinated Hamas commander. (Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades)

The Hamas statement left it in no uncertain terms: it was Israel that was responsible for the “cowardly operation” that had left a prominent commander, Mazen Fuqaha, dead on Gaza’s streets.

Fuqaha, 38, had been exiled to Gaza by Israel after being released from prison in 2011. Originally from Tubas, in the West Bank, Hamas said that he “had a great role in planning and supervising a number of heroic anti-occupation operations”.

Now he was dead, killed in front of a house in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood with four bullets from a silenced gun, according to reports in the Palestinian press.

But was Israel responsible for his killing?

The Israeli intelligence services have a history of assassinating members of militant organizations they consider enemies, which includes Hamas.

In a recent incident, Mohammed Zawahri, the leader of Hamas’ drone program, was shot dead in Tunisia on December 15 2016. While there is no confirmation of his killer’s identity, Tunisia’s government has said it suspects Israel was responsible.

Neri Zilber, an adjunct fellow of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al Bawaba that Israel had increased efforts to combat Hamas in the wake of what it saw as intelligence failings before the 2014 Gaza-Israel war.

“There’s been a major emphasis since 2014 on unconventional methods to degrade Hamas capabilities and personnel in what the Israelis refer to as the ‘war between the wars.’”

Zilber sounded a note of caution, however, saying that there was no confirmation Israel had carried out the killing.

When asked about reports that Fuqaha had been involved in planning Hamas activities in the West Bank, Zilber said that “any operation in Gaza is so much riskier for Israel than an operation in the West Bank. There are much easier ways to curtail a West Bank threat than killing someone in Gaza.”

Israel is not the only possible suspect. Hamas also faces domestic opposition from Salafi groups who chafe, sometimes violently, at restrictions placed on their activities. In a recent case that was reportedly the first of its kind, a Hamas military court charged a number of Gazan Salafis with firing rockets at Israel.  

Confrontations between different elements of Hamas’ armed wing are also not unknown. Mahmoud Ishtiwi, a Qassam commander, was killed in February 2016 after being detained by his former comrades. Officially accused of “collaboration” with Israel, accusations swirled that he had been killed as part of a power struggle.

In the absence of a confirmation from those responsible for Fuqaha’s death, rumors continue to spread, leading the Gazan Attorney General to take the unusal step of placing a gag order on reporting of the incident.

However, media outlets in Gaza close to Hamas have been among those running many stories speculating on the circumstances of the killing, with one headline shouting, “Have Israeli special forces roamed in Gaza?!”

The rest of the article left little doubt that the authors believed that they had.

Jacob Burns

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