Israel Claims to Foil Hamas Arms Smuggling Attempt

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Palestinians ride donkey carts during a sandstorm on February 11, 2015 next to buildings destroyed during last year's 51-day Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip, in Gaza City's al-Shujayeh neighborhood. AFP/Mohammed Abed

Published Thursday, February 12, 2015

Israel's Shin Bet security service claimed on Wednesday that in a joint operation with the navy it foiled a Palestinian attempt to ship “rocket-making materials” from Egypt into the besieged Gaza Strip.

It said in a statement that three Gazans appeared in an Israeli court charged with "security offenses" after being arrested at sea last month with a cargo of liquid fiberglass.

It added that under interrogation, the men allegedly said the substance was intended for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas resistance movement, "and was meant to provide the raw material used to produce rockets and mortars.”

Hamas has issued no statement on any interception.

For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip — by air, land and sea — claiming, among other things, that it wanted to stop rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

The Israeli offensive ended on August 26 with an Egypt-brokered ceasefire deal.

More than 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, were killed and 10,626 injured during unrelenting Israeli attacks on the besieged strip this summer.

According to the UN, the Israeli military killed at least 495 Palestinian children in Gaza during “Operation Protective Edge.” The al-Mezan Center for Human Rights puts the number at 518, while the Palestinian Center for Human Rights puts it at 519. All three figures exceed the total number of Israelis, civilians and soldiers, killed by Palestinians in the last decade.

The besieged enclave has also seen widespread destruction of its infrastructure, reaching levels of devastation that UN chief Ban Ki-moon called “beyond description” in a visit to the Strip on October 14.

According to the UN, at least 96,000 Palestinians homes were damaged or destroyed during the days of hostilities, a higher figure than was previously thought, and over 106,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million residents have been displaced to UN shelters and host families.

Shin Bet said seaborne smuggling attempts have increased recently as a result of the Egyptian army's destruction of hundreds of tunnels between its troubled Sinai region and Gaza where Hamas is the de facto power.

Hamas is an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood which the Egyptian authorities have also declared a terrorist group and have repressed systematically since the army ousted one of its leaders, Mohammed Mursi, from the presidency in 2013.

Since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi rose to power in Egypt in 2013 and was elected president, the country’s relationship with the besieged Gaza Strip has worsened.

Gaza, which has been under a brutal illegal Israeli blockade for almost eight years, relied heavily on smuggling tunnels across the Egyptian border to obtain vital supplies. The only border crossing between Egypt and Gaza has also been routinely closed, leaving many Palestinians stranded or without access to important medical treatment.

In November, Egypt decided to create a one kilometer-deep buffer zone in the Sinai Peninsula along the border with Gaza by clearing more than 800 houses, displacing more than 1,100 families, and destroying and neutralizing hundreds of subterranean tunnels.

In January, an Egyptian court banned the armed wing of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas and listed it as a terrorist organization.

Fatah to seek solution for Gaza reconstruction

Meanwhile, a Fatah official said Wednesday that a PLO delegation was to head to Gaza soon in order to work on implementing potential "solutions" to the reconstruction crisis.

Yehya Rabbah told Ma'an news agency that the delegation is ready to travel but is awaiting the results of a meeting between Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed and Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk which is scheduled to take place in Cairo soon.

Rabbah said that he feared, however, that the results of the meeting may be negative, as, in his opinion, "there has been no serious review by Hamas.”

He added that reconciliation is vitally important for the Palestinian people, hoping that the delegation would be able to surpass previous obstacles and reach "real" results.

Rabbah called upon Hamas to give the unity government between Fatah and Hamas full power in the Gaza Strip, a move that he said could help lessen the problems facing Gaza as a result of Israel's continuing blockade.

Although the leading Palestinian political parties signed a unity government in April that ended seven years of political division, the government has yet to take full control in the besieged Gaza Strip, which is dominated by Hamas.

Critics say Israel has repeatedly sought to undermine the deal including through a massive arrest campaign targeting Hamas members across the occupied West Bank over the summer as well as the 7-week aggression on Gaza.

Recent months have been plagued by tension and controversy between the Fatah and Hamas, with a series of explosions targeting Fatah and Hamas leaders’ properties and growing anger over the government's failure to pressure Israel to fulfill its promises in the August ceasefire deal to allow reconstruction material into the war-ravaged enclave.

Hamas and Fatah have also yet to agree on a solution to pay employees of the former Hamas-run government in the Strip who have been without salaries for months.

The political division between Fatah and Hamas began in 2007, a year after Hamas won legislative elections in Gaza but was subjected to a boycott by Israel and Western countries that left the economy in a fragile state.

(AFP, Ma'an, Al-Akhbar)

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