(FILE PHOTO) -- GAZA, Feb. 28, 2017 (Xinhua) -- Palestinians walk as smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on February 27, 2017. Israel's military spokesperson said the air force struck "targets" in the Gaza Strip after a rocket launched from the besieged Palestinian enclave hit southern Israel earlier on Monday. (Xinhua/Khaled Omar) (zf)

In The News International

Qatar crisis could turn Gaza into a timebomb

JOHANNESBURG – The Qatar crisis and internal and external pressures on the Gaza Strip which is under Israeli siege, is turning the area into a proverbial timebomb, with experts warning of another outbreak of violence.

“The worsening conditions in Gaza worry Israeli security officials and have led in recent weeks to discussions of the possibility of another outbreak of fighting this summer,” warned Israeli analyst Amos Harel in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

On Sunday, the Israeli security cabinet decided to further reduce supply of electricity to Gaza after coordinating with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who is the political rival of the Islamist group Hamas which controls Gaza.

The humanitarian situation on the ground in the coastal territory is already dire due to a blockade, with electricity limited to a few hours a day and restrictions on the import of fuel and other necessities reaching a population of two million living in an area of 365km2.

The electricity and fuel shortages have limited the operation of hospitals, and the ability of sewage treatment plants to treat contaminated water as the territory faces extreme water shortages and the availability of clean drinking water.

Israel made the decision to cut the supply of electricity in conjunction with Abbas who decided to halve the funds given to Israel for Gaza’s electricity supply.

Earlier, Abbas reduced payment to PA employees in the Gaza Strip by 40 percent, and said the PA would soon stop providing medicines and baby formula to hospitals in the Gaza Strip – as a means of pressuring his political rival Hamas.

The Israeli decision came despite the Israeli Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot, Israel’ s head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, Herzi Halevi, and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Yoav Mordechai, describing a worsening economic and humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The military commanders further warned that these actions were likely to hasten an escalation in Gaza.

This conclusion was also reached by the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, who warned of “ensuing violence and escalation” as a result of the reductions.

Now the crisis between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, over the latter’s support for what the Saudis call “terrorist groups”, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, could have further negative consequences for Gaza.

“In recent years Qatar has been one of the last props for the Hamas regime in Gaza,” warned Harel.

“Hamas’ ties with Egypt were damaged after the 2013 coup that brought the generals back into power in Cairo.

“Iran reduced its financial support to Hamas (although it was partly restored recently) due to the Sunni-Shi’ite dispute over the Syrian civil war, while Turkey’s interest in Gaza declined after the reconciliation agreement with Israel and amid President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s troubles both at home and abroad,” explained Harel.

Qatar, a small and wealthy Gulf state, continued to support Hamas and more than once helped resolve Hamas’ temporary lack of funds. But now the pressure is on Qatar to stop supporting Hamas.

Under American and Saudi pressure last week, several Hamas operatives were forced to leave Qatar after the Qataris were accused of supporting Hamas which is considered the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ostensibly, in light of Hamas’ troubles, a decision to seek a military escalation with Israel would be utterly foolish for Hamas, said Harel.

But the analyst questioned whether Hamas’ hard-line military wing was thinking along the same lines.

Many members of the military wing believed they had nothing to lose and that military action was the only answer to being pushed into a corner by enemies on all sides.

In recent weeks there have been violent skirmishes on the Israel-Gaza border with Palestinian demonstrators shot and killed when previously Hamas prevented the demonstrators from getting near the border.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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