Gaza residents are preparing for war after Israel accused Hamas of kidnapping three Israeli teens, sources in the coastal enclave told The Times of Israel Wednesday.
The population widely believes that the Hamas leadership was indeed involved in the abduction and that after Israel has finished dealing with the kidnapping saga, it will turn its attention to the Gaza Strip.
The independent Palestinian news agency Palswa reported Wednesday that Israeli special forces had raided the West Bank home of a prisoner who was freed in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal and deported to Gaza. According to the report, a Shin Bet security service agent forced the prisoner’s brother to call his sibling in Gaza. When the man picked up the phone, the agent reportedly took the receiver and said, “We know you are involved in the kidnapping, and we will hit you with a missile from a drone.”
Israeli forces, aided by PA security, have been engaged in a widespread operation against Hamas in the West Bank since the kidnapping Thursday night south of Jerusalem of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16 and Naftali Frankel, 16. Israeli officials have blamed Hamas for the abduction, as have Western officials including US Secretary of State John Kerry. As of Wednesday, 240 people had been detained in the operation, according to the IDF.
Gaza residents have expressed concern that an escalation could disrupt preparations for the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which begins in 10 days. The weeks before the holiday are known for intensive shopping, and residents have reported shortages of fuel and other supplies at gas stations and stores in Gaza as a result of a deepening economic crisis.
The unemployment rate in the Strip stands at about 40%, and some 40,000 employees of the Hamas government have not been paid in several months. The new Fatah-Hamas unity government, which had promised that a special committee would look into transferring back wages to the employees, has been dragging its feet and refusing to pay the salaries.
Despite the upcoming holiday, Egypt does not plan to open up its Rafah border crossing with Gaza to ease the population’s situation, an Egyptian official told The Times of Israel.
“The crossing will only be opened if Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority security forces are in place [in Gaza], with strict security arrangements that allow Israeli and international oversight, but such a solution is not likely,” the official said.
Israel has effectively blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas took control in 2007, only allowing essential goods to pass through Israeli border crossings. At Gaza’s southern end, Egypt, in trying to quell unrest and violence in the Sinai Peninsula, has only opened the Rafah crossing intermittently over the past year and destroyed most of the smuggling tunnels that fueled the Gaza economy.