Hamas chief says ceasefire is ‘in the danger zone,’ Israel ignoring terms

Comments come a day after terror group spokesman said Jerusalem was abiding by unofficial agreement; Haniyeh also slams Bahrain summit as ‘normalization’ with Israel

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh tours the site of a destroyed building, in Gaza City, March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh tours the site of a destroyed building, in Gaza City, March 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

The leader of the Hamas terror group on Thursday said Israel was ignoring the terms of an unofficial ceasefire agreement in the Gaza Strip, and slammed the upcoming peace summit in Bahrain.

In a rare briefing to foreign reporters in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh said the understandings, brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the UN, were now “in the danger zone.”

“Israel didn’t provide freedom of movement in the border crossings, uses the fishing zone issue for extortion, delays electricity and construction projects and severely restricts the entry of funds,” Haniyeh was quoted as saying.

He insisted Israel has shown “no respect” for the terms and the two million residents of Gaza, who “have not felt” any improvement to their living conditions.

Haniyeh also castigated the upcoming US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain, saying his movement rejected the gathering, which amounts to Arab “normalization” of ties with Israel.

A picture taken in Gaza City on May 5, 2019, shows rockets being fired toward Israel. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

“We clearly express our rejection and non-acceptance of any Arab or Islamic country holding such a conference, which constitutes normalization with the occupation,” Haniyeh said, referring to Israel.

US President Donald Trump’s administration organized the conference, which is to be held on June 25 and 26 in Manama for the unveiling of the economic component of a US peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been drafting the long-awaited plan, but it has been rejected in advance by the Palestinians, who accuse the Trump administration of pro-Israel bias. The unveiling of the political part of the conference is likely to be delayed until at least after the Israeli elections in September.

“We reject the Manama conference and the transformation of the Palestinian cause from a political cause to an economic cause,” Haniyeh said. He appealed to Bahrain’s King Hamad “not to hold this workshop,” vowing protests “in all the Palestinian lands and beyond.”

Haniyeh’s comments on the Gaza agreement came a day after a Hamas spokesman said Israel was abiding by the terms of the deal, after Israel allowed a Qatari delegation into the territory with $15 million in cash meant to aid impoverished families and support infrastructure projects.

A view of the Manama skyline, Bahrain. (CC-BY Jayson De Leon/Wikimedia Commons)

In a statement, Hazem Qassim said Wednesday that third-party mediators had assured the group that Israel would be implementing a “broader package” of concessions in the coming days, including allowing financial aid into Gaza, addressing the electricity and water crises in the Strip, establishing employment programs and “facilitating the movement of Palestinians through border crossings.”

Qassim’s assurance that Israel was fulfilling its purported obligations under the deal, whose exact stipulations are not clear, came after a report Wednesday in the Lebanese al-Akhbar newspaper, which claimed that Jerusalem had prevented the transfer of Qatari funds to approximately 5,000 needy families in Gaza.

Qatar’s envoy to Gaza, Mohammed Al-Emadi, denied the reports, saying the delay in transferring the funds to the families was due to a Qatari decision to put that money toward development projects instead of direct financial aid.

Israel does not officially acknowledge a ceasefire agreement with Hamas and the other terror groups in the Strip, which was brokered in early May following an intense two days of fighting.

Under the agreement, Hamas reportedly agreed to halt violent incidents along the border fence, maintaining a buffer zone 300 meters from the border; end the launching of incendiary balloons at Israeli communities and nighttime clashes between Gazans and security forces; and stop the flotillas trying to break through the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

A protester hurls stones at Israeli troops as a woman wearing a traditional Palestinian outfit waves a national flag, during a demonstration near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on May 10, 2019. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

In return, Israel agreed to allow Qatar to send money into Gaza; expand the fishing zone; enable United Nations cash-for-work programs; allow medicine and other humanitarian aid into the Strip; and open negotiations on matters relating to electricity, crossings and healthcare.

Hamas has largely prevented violence during border protests, turning back and arresting rioters who get too close to the security fence, and has stopped the flotillas. However, the flow of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices has not stopped in the past month and a half, and is widely seen by Israeli analysts as a tool with which the group seeks to exert pressure on Israel.

Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, began work this week on an upgraded pipeline to Gaza that will increase the flow of drinkable water into the blockaded enclave, which lacks potable water.

Israel will also reportedly build a new pipeline to take raw sewage that has been spilling into the Mediterranean from the Gaza Strip and process it on the Israeli side.

A Qatari team of engineers also visited the area to discuss the construction of another electrical line into the Gaza Strip from Israel.

Construction work on a fourth pipeline slated to carry freshwater into the central Gaza Strip, from the Eshkol Regional Council area in southern Israel, June 2019. (YouTube screen capture)

Emadi, who frequently liaises with Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and Israel about Gaza, entered the coastal enclave on Sunday through the Erez crossing, the sole pedestrian passageway between the Jewish state and the Strip, saying that 100,000 poor families would each receive payouts in the form of a $100 bill. By Thursday, when distribution of the funds began, the number of recipients had fallen to 60,000, with the remaining cash going toward “executing other sustainable projects that will be announced in the future,” according to the Doha envoy.

Fifty-three percent of Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty, a June 2018 United Nations report said. Eighty percent depend on international aid, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency, the main international organization that provides health, education and other services to Palestinian refugees.

Last week, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets at southern Israel. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system as it was heading toward the Eshkol region of southern Israel. The second struck a religious school in the town of Sderot, causing damage to the building but no injuries.

In response, the Israeli military conducted a series of airstrikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas violently seized control of the coastal Palestinian enclave in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority. Israel has said the restrictions are necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons and war materiel.

Since March 2018, Hamas has led regular mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border, with Israel accusing it of using the often violent demonstrations as cover to attack troops and the security fence.

The two sides have fought three wars over the past decade.

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