'The Strip is sitting on a volcano'

Gaza on the brink of explosion, Hamas warns

Terror group accuses PA of failing to lift sanctions on enclave, leading to humanitarian crisis

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Palestinian protesters seen during clashes with Israeli soldiers near the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 2, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian protesters seen during clashes with Israeli soldiers near the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, March 2, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh warned Monday that the Gaza Strip was on the brink of an “explosion” because of the continued Palestinian power struggle between his group and the Palestinian Authority.

Everyone “realizes that the Gaza Strip is sitting on a volcano,” Haniyeh cautioned while speaking to reporters in Gaza City.

“No one knows what will be the consequences of the explosion or its impact on the region,” he said.

A Palestinian holds a banner in Gaza City during a general strike to protest the humanitarian situation in Gaza on February 20, 2018. The writing in Arabic reads: “Gaza’s children are dying, can anyone help?” (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

The Hamas terror group, the de facto ruler in Gaza, and others have warned of an impending humanitarian crisis in the Strip, compounded by sanctions put on the coastal enclave by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Last year, Abbas announced a series of sanctions on the Gaza Strip with the hope of undermining Hamas’s rule over the coastal enclave.

The sanctions included, among other things, the suspension of payments for electricity supplied by Israel to the Gaza Strip, the forced early retirement of thousands of PA civil servants and halting welfare payments to hundreds of families.

Hamas charged Monday that the PA’s refusal to lift the sanctions shows that it is not interested in ending the rift between his group and Abbas’s Fatah faction.

“The PA and its government, headed by Rami Hamdallah, haven’t made a decision to embark on the path of national unity,” said Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem.

The continued sanctions, he added, “prove that the leadership of Fatah insists on the logic of singularity in decision-making and excluding the logic of partnership.”

The Hamas accusation came amid continued efforts by Egypt to end the dispute between the terror group and Fatah.

Last month, a senior Hamas delegation headed by Ismail Haniyeh spent three weeks in Cairo in a bid to solve the crisis and pave the way for the implementation of the “reconciliation” agreement, which was signed in November 2017.

Senior Egyptian security officials have held meetings in Gaza over the past week with representatives of Hamas and other Palestinian groups about the ongoing crisis.

However, on Monday it became evident that the Egyptians had failed to make any significant progress.

In this Friday, Dec. 12, 2014 file photo, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh greets supporters during a rally to commemorate the 27th anniversary of the Hamas militant group, at the main road in Jebaliya in the northern Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Haniyeh said that the visit of the Hamas delegation to Cairo has improved bilateral relations between the two sides. “We have overcome the crisis of confidence,” he added. “We are now in the process of building strong confidence with Egypt.”

Haniyeh claimed that the Egyptians had expressed appreciation for Hamas’s efforts to secure the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. The Egyptians, he said, also demonstrated understanding for the “grave humanitarian crisis” in the Gaza Strip and expressed readiness to ease restrictions, including reopening the Rafah border crossing.

The Hamas leader expressed hope that Abbas and the PA leadership would display enough “courage” to take real decisions to end the dispute between the two parties.

Hamas, he said, has done its utmost to remove obstacles hindering the implementation of the “reconciliation” deal.

Another top Hamas official, Khalil al Hayeh, said Hamas officials met last week with Nickolay Mladenov, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip.

Hayeh said that Hamas demanded during the meeting that the UN join Egyptian efforts to implement the “reconciliation” agreement. He did not say whether the UN envoy had accepted the offer or not.

The process of “reconciliation is moving at slow pace and what is needed is a political decision to achieve a breakthrough,” Hayeh said.

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