Hamas reportedly scrambling to stymie rocket fire

Source says forces deployed to rocket launching sites in Gaza as Egypt mediating between Israel and Strip’s Islamist rulers

Illustrative. An Israeli tank parks in position overlooking the Gaza Strip on December 25, 2013. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)
Illustrative. An Israeli tank parks in position overlooking the Gaza Strip on December 25, 2013. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Against the backdrop of increasing rocket fire out of the Gaza Strip, Hamas has reportedly deployed hundreds of operatives to thwart missile attacks on Israel and keep tensions from spiraling into a wide confrontation.

The organization, which has a standing force of 600 to stop rockets, recently posted hundreds of men near the Israeli-Gazan border, and at known rocket launching sites, in order to prevent attacks against Israel, Israel Radio reported late Monday.

Egypt has been feverishly trying to mediate between Israel and the Gaza-based terrorist organization, according to the report, hoping to restore calm after days of rocket fire and retaliatory strikes.

Five rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza overnight Monday, the latest sally in a seeming escalation of violence after months of relative calm.

Israeli officials, who say Jerusalem holds Hamas responsible even if it is not behind the fire, has vowed to respond forcefully to any attack.

The country has also taken defensive measures, moving an Iron Dome anti-missile battery to Beersheba and canceling classes in unprotected schools in Ashdod on Monday.

Hamas has reportedly conveyed to the Egyptians that it and other Palestinian groups are committed to preserving calm. However, some Gaza-based splinter groups may have a different agenda, as evidenced by the recent rocket attacks, including two barrages fired at Eilat and the western Negev Monday night.

“All of the parties are interested in calm,” a Palestinian security source told Israel Radio. “The Egyptians explained to us that in light of the events happening around us, it is advisable to refrain from providing Israel with excuses to attack the Strip.

“We’ve increased our monitoring of borders, and if there is [rocket] fire, then it is a deviation from our national consensus,” the source said.

Despite the pro-active comments from Gaza, Hamas’ motivation to stop the rockets may have diminished.

The Islamist organization, which has made an effort to prevent attacks against Israel since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012, has found itself increasingly isolated since the ouster of president Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last week an Egyptian official said Cairo would target Hamas after dealing with the Brotherhood, Reuters reported.

One of the Egyptian army’s first moves after the coup was to destroy hundreds of smuggling tunnels, crushing a main industry in the Strip.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have joined the ranks of the unemployed due to stagnation in the construction industry, in light of the severe shortage of building materials, and are putting domestic pressure on Hamas.

The organization is seen as having little to lose and may have turned a blind eye to smaller salafist groups in the Strip, tacitly allowing the rocket fire.

Hamas may not want an escalation in violence, but the status quo is problematic, even dangerous, for the Islamists, especially with Gazans less willing to give them leeway.

Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.

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