Conflict Alerts # 35, 26 February 2020
In the news
On 24 February 2020 (at 20:30 GMT), a ceasefire was achieved in the Gaza strip between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group. PIJ’s armed wing said that “al-Quds Brigades announces that it has ended its military response to the assassination crimes in Khan Younis and Damascus”. The belligerents had been trading rocket fires and air raids since February 22. A Lebanon-based senior Islamic Jihad leader, Ihsan Ataya, stated in a press conference that the truce was achieved following an international and Egyptian mediation. (Al Jazeera) The Israeli army spokesperson confirmed that no projectiles were fired from the region overnight.
Furthermore, on February 24, Israeli air raids killed six persons in Damascus. Israel has confirmed raids on the besieged Gaza strip and the Syrian capital. A noteworthy unusual move. Meanwhile, Israel is being slammed for “necroviolence”, humiliating and withholding Palestinian bodies.
Issues at large
Throughout the two days of heavy fighting, PIJ’s armed wing (al-Quds Brigades) fired heavy rockets in southern Israel and Israeli aircrafts crushed various targets in the Gaza strip. Israel’s killing of the Islamic Jihad's armed wing’s member Mohammed al-Naim triggered the recent escalation. Israel accused him of planting an IED at the Israeli fence east of southern Gaza strip’s Khan Younis. The circulation of a graphic video showing an Israeli bulldozer aggressively retrieving Naim’s body made matters worse. Despite requests, the body remains in Israeli custody.
PIJ retaliated by pounding Israeli territory using a barrage of rockets and mortar provoking Israeli military to attack Iran-backed PIJ group’s leaders’ bases in Syrian territory killing two more PIJ members. Post the release of the much-awaited Trump-Jared Mideast Plan, violence surged as head of Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas rejected the plan. However, the degree and nature of conflict was low for Israel-Palestine conflict standards. The February 22-24 fighting was the heaviest round since the two-day November battle following Israel killing a top PIJ commander.
Although PIJ, on February 24, declared a unilateral ceasefire, Israel relentlessly attacked targets in Gaza injuring over eight Palestinians, as per Gaza Health Ministry. Accusing Israel of sustained “aggression” and disrespecting the ceasefire, PIJ renewed rocket attacks encouraging further Israeli air raids and closure of a fishing zone and key border crossings of Gaza. Israel accused PIJ of launching over 80 rockets. In Gaza and adjacent areas, a shutdown was implemented to avoid casualties.
The upcoming unprecedented third Israeli parliamentary election will take place on March 1 2020, in the wake of the latest surge in violence. It will be the third vote post two inconclusive ones in 2019. Although the recent Israeli air raids only targeted PIJ positions, Gaza’s Hamas government is being held responsible for attacks from coastal regions. Israel-Hamas skirmishes have been common since 2007 and have resulted in the Egyptian-Israeli blockade on the coastal area. However, recently Hamas seems to be attempting to avoid conflict and provide better living standards in the region.
Netanyahu, with elections around the corner, seems reluctant to pick a fight with Hamas and has settled for PIJ, a disorganized spoiler to global mediation and diplomatic efforts; not a grave military or security threat. Netanyahu, who is up against Benny Gantz (former military commander and leader of the opposition Blue and White Party) may be using the situation to distract attention from the upcoming corruption trial and pose himself as the seasoned protector of Israelis. Nevertheless, a disruption of the vote could prove challenging for Netanyahu.