The continued standoff between Hamas and Israel and the failure of international mediation attempts to bring the two sides together threatened a further escalation of border confrontations, officials warned on Tuesday.
Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and the launch of incendiary balloons and rockets from Gaza targeting Israeli communities adjacent to the border, have intensified in recent days despite ongoing efforts by Egypt, Qatar, and the UN to calm tensions.
With no sign of an imminent breakthrough in negotiations, activists are now believed to be planning a resumption of popular border protests.
A source on the Great Return March committee told Arab News that members were discussing options for a return to public activities on the border if Israel continued to flout its obligations toward “truce understandings.”
Late last year, the committee decided to limit its activities to national events before completely suspending action at the beginning of this year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Hamas official Ismail Radwan said that international mediation attempts, although continuing, faced severe difficulties due to what he described as Israeli intransigence.
An Egyptian-led security delegation which visited Gaza and Israel last week, conveyed messages exchanged between the two parties but returned to Cairo without securing an agreement.
A Palestinian source told Arab News that Israel had refused to positively deal with demands relayed by the Egyptian delegation after meeting with Hamas leaders in Gaza and had threatened to broaden the scope of its response.
On Tuesday, Israel strengthened its military presence along the eastern border of Gaza with Israeli media reporting that army plans had been drawn up to combat various scenarios regarding security tensions in Gaza.
Radwan said: “The threats of the occupation will not frighten us, and we will break the unjust siege with all our strength. “The resistance is ready to move forward to the farthest extent, and it is no longer possible to remain silent on the catastrophic situation in Gaza because of the blockade.”
Israel moved on Sunday to block all goods from entering the enclave through Kerem Shalom, the only commercial crossing, with the exception of food and medical supplies.
For more than a week, Israel has stopped fishing crews from heading out to sea, and it has also prevented the supply of building materials and fuel which has caused the only power station in Gaza to stop operating and electricity output to be cut off for around 20 hours a day.
Hamas has demanded that Israel stick to stated understandings reached last year under Egyptian and international auspices.
However, experts believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be engineering the Gaza situation to detract attention from internal calls for his dismissal and trial on corruption charges.
Ron Ben-Yishai, military analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, said the recent exchange of threats were unlikely to result in a major confrontation in Gaza.
He questioned the seriousness of sabre rattling by Israel, attributing this to what he called “the convictions in Hamas, that Israel will not rush into a comprehensive confrontation in light of the worsening of the COVID-19 crisis and its economic and political repercussions, the fragility of the government coalition, and the possibility of heading to fourth elections in the near future.”
The military correspondent for the Israeli Walla website, Amir Bukhbout, said the Israeli army was preparing for a scenario of comprehensive escalation but could not “exclude the possibility of deterring Hamas by returning to the policy of assassinations,” despite factions warning that such action would lead to rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.
Bukhbout claimed the negotiations conducted by Egyptian intelligence between Hamas and Israel had stalled due to each party’s adherence to its position and the lack of any concessions.
Husam Al-Dajani, professor of political science at Al-Ummah University, told Arab News that both sides had more important priorities than open confrontation.
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