The Gaza leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Saturday put on a display of reconciliation, after senior Hamas members were twice barred Friday from a mourning tent for a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist whose killing by Israel set off two days of fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited the mourning tent for Baha abu al-Ata, and was warmly received and photographed along with Islamic Jihad’s Gaza leader Khaled al-Batsh and Abu al-Ata’s father.
Haniyeh also telephoned the Damascus-based overall Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Nakhalah, Israel’s Channel 12 news reported.
The show of harmony between the rival terror groups came a day after Palestinians affiliated with Islamic Jihad accosted Hamas officials Mahmoud al-Zahar and Ahmed Bahar as they tried to visit the mourning tent for Abu al-Ata, who was killed early Tuesday in an Israeli air strike.
The mourners were apparently angry at Hamas after the Gaza-ruling terror group did not take part in the Tuesday-Wednesday flare-up between Israel and Islamic Jihad, during which Islamic Jihad fired some 450 rockets into Israel. Islamic Jihad members yelled “out, Hamas out,” and threw stones at the Hamas leaders’ vehicle.
After a second attempt to visit was made, eyewitnesses said Hamas police fired gunshots in the air as rioting broke out. The Hamas officials then fled from the mourning tent in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood.
תקרית חריגה היום אחר הצהריים ברצועת עזה:
עפ"י דיווחים פלסטינים – משלחת בראשות בכירי חמאס מחמוד א-זהאר ואחמד בחר הגיעו לביקור תנחומי אבלים בביתו של בהא אבו אל-עטא והותקפו באלימות מילולית ויתכן שגם פיזית במחאה על סירובה של חמאס להשתתף בסבב הלחימה שפתח גא"פ מול ישראל בעקבות החיסול pic.twitter.com/nh89AOQ1KR
— Elior Levy • אליאור לוי (@eliorlevy) November 15, 2019
On Saturday, Batsh, seated alongside Zahar, spoke out against what had happened. “The unfortunate incident regarding the way our warrior brother… Zahar was received harms Islamic Jihad and Hamas equally. The demagogic behavior is not acceptable to us,” said Batsh. “We promise that we will remain united in our war against Israel and those who assist her.”
Hebrew media reports Saturday said members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad military wings also held talks, and planned further attacks against Israeli targets.
In what some military sources said Saturday was a move by Hamas to demonstrate it remains committed to military confrontation with Israel, two rockets were fired from Gaza at Beersheba at around 2:00 a.m. on Saturday. Both were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
Channel 12 and Channel 13 news both reported, however, that while the rockets were likely fired by Hamas operatives, this was probably done without the approval of the Hamas leadership. Israel hit back at Hamas targets after the rocket fire, but the military strikes were relatively mild, the TV news reports noted, reflecting Israel’s ongoing desire to avoid a major conflict with Hamas, which is also seen to be seeking to avoid confrontation.
The military sources quoted in the TV reports said further intermittent rocket fire from Gaza could not be ruled out, but that there is an assessment that Hamas’s decision to stay out of the conflict on Tuesday and Wednesday offers a possibility of negotiations on a longer-term truce. There was no official confirmation of these reports.
Notably in this context, there were no protests Friday on the Gaza border, marking only the second time since the so-called March of Return protests and riots began in March 2018 that no weekly demonstrations took place. Hamas largely controls these protests.
Furthermore, as of Saturday night, local councils in southern Israel were planning to open schools as usual on Sunday morning, anticipating relative calm.
On Friday, the Ynet news site reported that the decision to agree to a ceasefire with Israel early Thursday led to a major rift within Islamic Jihad, with the group’s political wing supporting the ceasefire while the military wing wanted to keep fighting.
Palestinian sources told the site that officials in the military wing were also demanding that the group quit the joint war room of Gaza’s armed factions over Hamas’s decision not to participate in this week’s combat.
According to a Channel 13 report Friday night, the commander of the northern brigade in the Israeli military’s Gaza Division told security officials in southern Israel that despite the ceasefire, rocket-fire from the Strip could continue due to internal disputes between Islamic Jihad factions seeking to continue to respond to the targeted killing of Abu al-Ata.
Unlike previous escalations of tension between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, Hamas’s military wing did not actively participate in this week’s fighting, which ended with the announcement of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire early Thursday, though sporadic rocket fire continued throughout the day.
Israel also refrained from attacking Hamas targets. In previous rounds of fighting, Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the Strip; that was not the case this time.
From predawn Tuesday to Thursday morning, Israel and Islamic Jihad fought a battle in which over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the Israel Defense Forces responded with dozens of airstrikes on Islamic Jihad bases and weapons facilities and on the terror cells as they were firing and preparing to launch rockets.
Palestinian sources said 34 Gazans were killed. Israel said 25 of the fatalities were terrorists; human rights officials said 16 civilians were among the dead.
Hamas’s military wing said Friday one of its members was killed during the flare-up, but did not specify if he was involved in the fighting.
Fifty-eight Israelis were lightly and moderately injured or treated for anxiety.