Celebrations of Mohammed Assaf’s victory on “Arab Idol” lasted in the Gaza Strip for just under 24 hours. A volley of rockets fired from Gaza Sunday night and Monday morning at several targets in Israel marked a return to routine in the Strip. The Israeli response wasn’t long in coming: bombs on installations associated with Islamic Jihad, which was apparently responsible for the rocket fire, and on the tunnels in Rafah, and a closing of the border crossings between Israel and Gaza.
But this time, after 40 days of total quiet, the motivation for launching the missiles is not related to Israel. The various Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad, didn’t even attempt to claim that the “Zionist enemy” was responsible for the current deterioration. The shooting is rooted in an internal Palestinian incident whose exact circumstances are unclear. What we do know is that a senior Islamic Jihad official was shot to death, apparently by Hamas policemen. The Jihad decided to “avenge” his death by attacking a very sensitive spot for Hamas these days — the ceasefire with Israel.
It’s no secret that Hamas is investing tremendous resources in maintaining the ceasefire with Israel. Last week, The Times of Israel reported that the rulers of the Gaza Strip had established a force of 600 soldiers working around the clock to prevent rocket attacks. Hamas’s desire to preserve the quiet with Israel has even increased recently, after the Egyptian Army launched an operation in an attempt to completely stop the smuggling of goods and people to and from Gaza through the tunnels in advance of the June 30 protests planned across Egypt. The Egyptian Army’s primary concern is that terrorist cells operating in Gaza will pass through the tunnels into Egypt and take advantage of the many protest rallies expected next Sunday against President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in order to carry out terror attacks.
Hence Islamic Jihad’s decision to “punish” Hamas by firing at Israel, sending a message to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s government that there’s a steep price to pay for mistakes like killing a senior official of the organization. The closure of the border crossing to Israel (which was to be expected after the rocket fire) at such a problematic time — when the tunnels are almost completely inoperative, when the shortage of various fuels is worsening (once again hundreds of cars are lined up at the entrance to gas stations) — will only increase the public’s anger toward the Hamas authorities.
The incident on Saturday which brought about the current decline between Islamic Jihad and Hamas was unplanned, despite Islamic Jihad’s claims to the contrary. Hamas police raided the Shuja’iyya home of a drug dealer. Raed Jundiya, an active member of the Islamic Jihad, apparently tried to prevent the arrest, because he knew the dealer. As to what happened after that, the accounts diverge. The Hamas interior ministry said the bullet that killed Jundiya was fired from his own gun, while Islamic Jihad insists that Hamas policemen shot Jundiya to death after he tried to prevent the arrest. Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, announced the formation of a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death.
On Sunday, however, the situation got even worse. During Jundiya’s funeral, with senior Islamic Jihad officials on hand, a Hamas military vehicle hit the commander of the Islamic Jihad’s military wing, Mohammad al-Harazin. Following the incident, Jihad published a message in which it claimed that Jundiya was murdered by “traitors” and announced the cessation of all contact with Hamas.
Palestinian sources in Gaza assess that Sunday night’s escalation was an isolated incident and said they do not expect Islamic Jihad to continue firing rockets at Israel. They also rejected the possibility that the rocket fire was connected to a report published Sunday by Palestinian news agencies to the effect that Israeli forces abducted Hamas activist Mohammad Abu Rida two days ago in the Sinai desert. The actual report seems fantastical, but sources said that it would not have been the first time that Israel arrested Hamas members in the Sinai. They claimed that a year ago, another Hamas activist, Tahir Atwa, was arrested by Israeli intelligence while in the Sinai desert. He was eventually transferred to Israel and sentenced to 17 years in prison.