In September, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and politburo chief Khaled Mashaal traveled with Hamas delegations to meet with Egyptian officials in Cairo. The parties discussed security cooperation and the possibility of a Gaza-Egypt free trade zone. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was notably absent from meetings and it remains unclear when or if Hamas will establish an office in Cairo. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas protested the meeting between Haniyeh and Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, viewing it as Egypt's acknowledgement of Haniyeh as a Palestinian leader.
Ismail Haniyeh shuffled his cabinet in September, citing the changing Middle East environment and "normal procedure after six years of work by some ministers" as reasons. A similar move by President Abbas drew criticism from Hamas as proof Abbas is not ready for reconciliation. Displaying further discord, Hamas representatives expressed anger at the PA for arresting dozens of Hamas members in the West Bank, suspecting political motivation. The PA denied the criticism, stating the arrests were directed towards criminals. Many of the detainees were freed after questioning.
Mashaal will not seek re-election as party chief, according to Hamas officials. Potential candidates for the post include Ismail Haniyeh and deputy politburo head, Mousa Abu Marzouq. The latter is believed to be the preferred successor. According to the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, Mashaal is stepping down because of disagreements within Hamas. There is continued speculation of a split in Hamas members over the Arab uprising and violence in Syria.
Dr. Ghazi Hamad, the Deputy Foreign Minister for Hamas in Gaza, revealed that the Hamas government has plans to establish a diplomatic corps to improve relations with the international community. It was speculated that this move is an indication Hamas is working towards preparations that will allow it to declare Gaza an independent state. Hamad denied the claim, stating the diplomats' purpose will be to alleviate political divisions and bring better representation to Gazans.
Living Situation in Gaza
Hamas has come under scrutiny in a new Human Rights Watch report for its use of torture while questioning detainees. The report also notes Hamas's use of arbitrary arrests and barring detainees from prompt access to lawyers. One hundred forty-seven complaints of torture were lodged with the Independent Commission for Human Rights in 2011. Hamas rejected the allegations.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms reported in September that between August 23-30, a chief editor for Gaza's Ashola news agency was kidnapped, held, and beaten by Hamas.
At least 500 Gazans demonstrated in a rare protest in September, calling for the overthrow of Hamas after a boy died in a fire during a power outage.
A Hamas Ministry of Finance official claimed no corruption cases have been reported against the ministry since 2006. In response, one observer wrote that corruption, especially through excessive taxation, fraud, and bribery, is widespread in the Hamas government. According to the PA, of the 2,400 near-millionaires in Gaza, most are Hamas affiliates in the tunnel business.
The Hamas government in Gaza demolished over a dozen homes that belonged to Bedouin families built on public land without permits. Land Authority spokesman Amal Shamaly said a security compound is planned for that area. The government also closed seven car companies in September due to their failure to pay taxes.
Gazan taxi driver Munther al-Qassas has built Gaza's first electric car, which travels at 12 mph and runs for four hours, after charging up for five.
A young Gazan died after setting himself on fire in September to protest the Strip's economic conditions. In October, another young man tried to do the same; he is currently in intensive care.
Gazans in September staged protests against Egypt's crackdown on the underground smuggling tunnels that connect Gaza to Sinai. While tunnel owners claim that only 10 percent of the tunnels remain open, Egyptian authorities say only 10 percent have been closed. The closures, however, have only "partially affected the [Gazan] economy." The passing of building materials and people has been hindered but the flow of fuel continues unaffected. The enclave has thus far experienced no shortages. Hamas said it would shut down the tunnels if Egypt allowed free trade across the border.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip burned American flags and chanted "Death to America" during a protest ostensibly in response to an American film mocking the Prophet Muhammad that was used as a pretext for similar demonstrations in many other countries. Some Gazan protesters carried swords, axes, and knives. Hamas's minister of religious endowments, Ismail Radwan, called for a boycott of American goods and Hamas urged the U.S. to punish the filmmakers.
Women's groups protested near the Palestinian Legislative Council office in Gaza City in support of Palestinian reconciliation and establishing a political system that respects freedom and diversity. In October, a second similar protest was dispersed by Hamas.
A Palestinian transport workers strike closed the Erez crossing from Israel to Gaza in early October. The strike was held in protest of Gaza's security forces' decision to search the workers.
In October, tens of thousands gathered in Gaza City to commemorate the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Jihad movement. Ramadan Shallah, secretary general of the movement, stated that negotiations with Israel "obviously failed," creating a crisis that cannot be resolved through more negotiations or non-violent acts.
Security Situation in Gaza
Hamas security forces detained 20 Salafist fighters in early September and confiscated homemade projectiles and light weapons. In October, another Salafist group, Jaysh al-Umma, said its members were arrested and tortured by Hamas.
Israeli soldiers killed three Palestinian terrorists attempting to plant explosives near the border in early September. This followed an airstrike that resulted in the death of three militants preparing to launch a rocket at Israel. Hamas called the airstrikes a "test" for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi for how he tolerates violence in Gaza.
A Gaza man received the death sentence and his wife was sentenced to 10 years in prison for providing intelligence to Israel that led to the assassination of Palestinian militant leaders, according to the court.
A Hamas court convicted four men in last year's murder of Italian peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni. Two received life sentences, one was jailed for 10 years, and the fourth was sentenced in absentia to 12 months.
Security Situation in Sinai
An IDF soldier was killed and another injured in a firefight with militants near the Egyptian-Israeli border. In response, Egyptian state security went into high alert and said it would coordinate an investigation with Israel.
In early September, the Egyptian military held its first press conference since it began military operations in Sinai in response to the killing of 16 border guards in August. Spokesman Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said the campaign in the Sinai was coordinated with Israel. Ali noted that, at that time, 31 tunnels had been destroyed, 32 "criminal elements" killed, 38 suspects arrested, and large quantities of small arms confiscated. An Egyptian and six others were identified in connection with the attack. An internal investigation by Gaza's interior ministry cleared Palestinians and Gazan residents of involvement.
The northern Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwayed and its surrounding area has become a focal point for fighting. On September 16, following the arrest of suspected jihadists, militants fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles at a security building and troops. One soldier died and eight were wounded. Similar incidents occurred earlier in the month but with no casualties (see reports here and here).
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in September quietly sought political reconciliation using Islamists and other mediators to negotiate with Sinai militants. A meeting was held between a presidential mission and jihadists with no clear agreement.
Also in September, the Egyptian army replaced some of its heavy tanks in Sinai with light armored vehicles after Israel raised concerns about the use of weapons in restricted areas. Mohamed Esmat Seif al-Dawla, an Egyptian presidential advisor, said the Camp David Accords should be revised to give Egypt "full control" of Sinai. President Morsi has promised to uphold international treaties, although in August an adviser said that Morsi was studying the accords to determine if they should be amended.
Aid and Trade
Israel has allowed the shipment of 100 million shekels from the West Bank to Gaza to assist with the liquidity crisis there, and will permit the transport of furniture and clothing from Gaza to the West Bank, among other improvements concerning the entry and exit of goods.
Hamas leaders in Gaza banned imports of fruit from Israel, with only bananas and apples now being allowed through. The ban's purpose is reportedly to protect the Gaza market and show "resistance" against Israel. However, since the ban went into effect, fruit prices have increased significantly.
Qatar has pledged $450 million in aid to Gaza over the next three years to help with infrastructure, development, and education projects. It also opened the first diplomatic office in Gaza to oversee that aid.
Egypt has stated it will increase the power supply to Gaza in October from 22 megawatts to 30.
There were contradicting reports this month on whether Egypt would agree or refuse to establish a free trade zone with Gaza. Egyptian officials, however, say they remain committed to passing measures that will ease border travel for Gazans, such as opening the Rafah crossing on Fridays and increasing the number of travelers permitted through to 1,500.
Syrian state run television leveled a verbal attack at Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, saying he was having a "romantic emotional crisis" over the Syrian uprising. Mashaal closed Hamas's offices in Damascus earlier this year in response to the regime's brutal crackdown.
2012 Rocket Count
In September, 17 rockets and eight mortars were launched at Israel from Gaza. An improvised explosive device (IED) and anti-tank weapon were also used.
During August, 21 rockets and 3 mortar shells were launched at Israel, including one rocket launched from the Sinai. In July, a total of 18 rockets and 9 mortars were launched into Israel, compared to the 197 rockets and 21 mortars that were launched in June.
In May, 4 rockets and 2 mortars were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The previous month, 10 rockets were launched from Gaza. March saw 173 rockets and 35 mortars launched from Gaza. This is compared to the 36 rockets and 1 mortar shell launched at Israel in February, and the 9 rockets and 7 mortars launched in January.
JPC researchers Michael Johnson and Joshua Ely contributed to this report.
Related Topics: Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Israel | Samara Greenberg
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