Gaza on high alert after suicide bombings kill Hamas policemen

Thousands attend funerals for 3 officers as terror group hunts for those behind the attacks; Islamic State sympathizers suspected

Hamas security forces stop a vehicle at a checkpoint in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 28, 2019 (Said Khatib/AFP)
Hamas security forces stop a vehicle at a checkpoint in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 28, 2019 (Said Khatib/AFP)

Gaza’s Hamas rulers said Wednesday they had identified the two suicide bombers that killed three Hamas police officers in attacks in the Strip overnight, placing the Palestinian enclave in a state of alert.

Interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm did not name the bombers who blew themselves up at two police checkpoints in Gaza City, and added that security forces “continue to investigate who is behind them.”

Witnesses told AFP that both bombings were carried out by assailants on motorbikes.

A source familiar with the investigation said a Salafist movement in Gaza that sympathizes with the Islamic State jihadist group was suspected.

The interior ministry said two of the police officers were 32 and the third was 45. The military wing of the Hamas terror group hailed them as members.

Palestinian Hamas masked gunmen stand guard around blood on the ground following an explosion targeted a Hamas police checkpoint in Gaza City, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

New police checkpoints were set up in Gaza City as authorities investigated the attacks.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh sought to calm fears of unrest in the enclave of two million people.

“We assure our people that whatever these explosions are, they will be brought under control as with every previous event, and will not be able to undermine the stability and steadfastness of our people,” he said in a statement.

Thousands gathered for funerals for the three police officers on Wednesday.

Suicide bombings are rare in the Gaza Strip. In August 2017, a suicide bomber killed a Hamas guard in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt.

Hamas, the Islamic terrorist organization that controls Gaza, has frequently come into conflict with supporters of more extreme jihadist organizations in the Strip and recently undertook operations against members of IS. Last year, the group’s Sinai branch declared war on Hamas, calling the group and its supporters “apostates.”

The ministry initially blamed the Tuesday blast on Israel, but later retracted the claim, while the Israeli military said it had not carried out any air raids at the time of the bombings.

The attacks come at a sensitive time.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and tensions have again risen in recent weeks ahead of Israel’s September 17 elections.

Israel’s military on Tuesday bombed a Hamas military post after terrorists in the Strip fired a mortar round across the border, the latest in a string of such incidents this month.

On Monday, Israel launched air strikes against Hamas in response to rocket fire, while it also halved fuel deliveries to the enclave.

The punitive reduction in the flow of fuel to the Strip’s main power station means a cut in Gaza’s already rationed electricity supply.

The incidents have threatened a fragile truce that had cooled several severe flare-ups between Hamas and Israel in recent months.

Brokered by UN and Egyptian officials, the ceasefire also involves aid to the Gaza Strip from Qatar.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid an escalation in Gaza before the polls due to the political risk involved, but he has faced calls for strong action from his electoral opponents.

As a result, there has been speculation in Israel that Hamas has turned a blind eye to recent rocket fire and infiltration attempts by more radical elements instead of preventing them, in a bid to pressure Netanyahu into further concessions.

Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the recent cross-border incidents. Other terrorist groups, most prominently Islamic Jihad, also operate in the Gaza Strip.

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