Islamic Jihad threatens Israel over glacial pace of reconstruction
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Islamic Jihad threatens Israel over glacial pace of reconstruction

Terror chief says his group, an Iranian-backed Islamist organization, is stronger now than before Operation Protective Edge

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian supporters of Islamic Jihad take part in an anti-Israel protest against the recent visits by Jewish activists to the Temple Mount compound, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 7, 2014 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian supporters of Islamic Jihad take part in an anti-Israel protest against the recent visits by Jewish activists to the Temple Mount compound, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 7, 2014 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel’s violations of the ceasefire agreement it reached with Gaza’s armed factions will lead to a new round of confrontation, the deputy director of the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad terror group warned on Wednesday, as a powerful storm battered a Strip recovering from this summer’s conflict.

In comments posted on the terror group’s official website, Ziad Nakhaleh cited recent Israeli violations of Gaza’s sovereignty in the “no-go zone” along the border with Israel and along Gaza’s coast, and what he said was Israel’s hampering of reconstruction efforts in the enclave.

He said that the military capabilities of Islamic Jihad — the second-largest political group in the Gaza Strip, avowedly devoted to the destruction of Israel — were greater now than they were before Operation Protective Edge, noting that the movement has gained much experience by engaging the Israeli army in battle over the summer.

Nakhaleh’s frustration mostly focused on the slow pace of home reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, administered by the UN in coordination with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Some 25,000 damaged homes are reported by the UN to be in need of urgent reconstruction as stormy weather drenched the Strip this week. Nakhaleh added that a scheduled round of negotiations with Israel through Egyptian mediation has been postponed indefinitely due to Egypt’s month-long closure of the Rafah border crossing following a terror attack against Egyptian soldiers near the border.

On Wednesday Egypt said it would open the transfer point for two days to allow Palestinians stranded in Egypt to return home.

“The so-called Serry plan is in effect Israel’s vision for reconstruction, but internationally administered,” Nakhaleh said. “It also gives international legitimacy to the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip for the past seven years. We are therefore opposed to it in principle.”

The plan, announced by UN Middle East peace process coordinator Robert Serry, is a trilateral agreement among Israel, the Palestinian unity government and the United Nations to facilitate Gazans’ access to building materials for the restoration of their homes and to ensure that such materials “be used for their intended purpose” and not for the manufacture of weapons, something Israel has expressed concern about.

A Palestinian man sweeps the floor of his home that was damaged after a mosque across the street was hit by an Israeli airstrike on August 25, 2014 in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip. (photo credit: AFP Photo/Roberto Schmidt)
A Palestinian man sweeps the floor of his damaged home, August 25, 2014, in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip. (photo credit: AFP/Roberto Schmidt)

“The resistance is sufficiently prepared to invest all it has to end the siege, even if it is forced to turn to a new confrontation,” Nakhaleh continued. “The status quo is unacceptable, and Israel knows better than anyone else that its continued siege of the Gaza Strip cannot grant it even minimal security, as some of its politicians admit.”

Those comments echoed concerns voiced earlier this month by Hamas deputy political director Moussa Abu Marzouk. According to Abu Marzouk, Hamas — the de facto power controlling Gaza — was never consulted by Serry on the reconstruction plan.

“Everyone insisted that the Palestinian Authority, through the national unity government, be responsible for construction” rather than the UN, Abu Marzouk said during the Cairo talks.

On Tuesday Abu Marzouk told Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV channel that he had received assurances from the UN that construction would be expedited and completed within three years, with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) carrying out reconstruction work on 24,600 homes and UNRWA working on the rest. Building materials for the entire project will enter from Israel within 10 to 12 days, he said.

Meanwhile, another Gaza-based member of Islamic Jihad, Khaled Al-Batsh, blamed the Palestinian Authority and the unity government rather than the UN for delays in Gaza’s rehabilitation.

“The Palestinian Authority and the government are responsible for the mismanagement of the [border] crossings,” Batsh told Hamas daily al-Resalah on Sunday. “They are also responsible for the delay in construction materials entering Gaza, because they agreed on the mechanisms and on the plan of Special Coordinator for the Peace Process Robert Serry.

“This bad agreement resulted in a new stranglehold on the people of the Gaza Strip and delayed construction,” he concluded.

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