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Gaza factions suspend popular activities to advance mediation efforts

Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip agreed to suspend popular activities until mid-September, to allow the mediators’ efforts for the reconstruction process to succeed.
Supporters of Islamic Jihad distribute sweets to celebrate the escape of six Palestinians from an Israeli prison, Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sept. 6, 2021.

Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip have suspended their popular activities on the border fence with Israel in order to give room to regional mediation efforts to achieve some progress in lifting the siege.

In a Sept. 6 press statement, the spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip, Abu Mujahid, said that the Palestinian factions agreed to give the Egyptian and Qatari mediation efforts until mid-September as a deadline to lift the siege imposed on Gaza and implement the agreements stipulated in the cease-fire that ended the latest round of violence in Gaza May 21. 

He noted that the recent goodwill measures announced by Israel are not sufficient.

Abu Mujahid continued that the factions are closely following up on the developments related to the mediation, and they will hold a meeting once the deadline expires.

On the same day, the chairman of the Qatar Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, Mohammed al-Emadi, urged “all concerned parties to assume their responsibilities of maintaining calm and stability in the Gaza Strip in order to improve the population’s extremely difficult humanitarian conditions.” 

In a press release, Emadi said an agreement was reached to fully reopen the border crossings and to provide incentives that would help the concerned parties reduce tension in the region.

He noted, “All procedures related to the disbursement of the Qatari grant to needy families in the Gaza Strip have been completed in agreement with the Palestinian Authority [PA] and the United Nations. The disbursement process will start according to the mechanism agreed upon with the UN this month [September], after the UN completes all technical procedures related to the disbursement process.” 

Emadi also explained that the grant will be disbursed to Gaza’s public sector employees, in coordination with the PA, in the next few days and in agreement with the various parties.

Alaa Aaraj, head of the Palestinian Contractors Union in the Gaza Strip, said in a statement following his meeting with Emadi in Gaza Sept. 6 that the reconstruction process following the latest Israeli aggression in May will take place through the Qatari grant. 

He said that direct payments to the beneficiaries will be made in three or four stages, depending on the completion of each stage.

Aaraj continued, “Emadi revealed that iron will arrive in Gaza next week without going through the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism [GRM]. He also announced key incentives related to the file of dual-use items [civilian and military use] to gradually dismantle the GRM, with European and US pressure to improve the humanitarian and economic reality in Gaza.”

In parallel with the factions’ pledge to suspend popular activities in eastern Gaza, Israel announced Sept. 6 that six Palestinian prisoners broke out from the high-security Gilboa prison, after digging a tunnel under their cell for months. 

Among the six fugitives are five members of Islamic Jihad. The sixth was identified as Zakaria al-Zubeidi, former commander of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in Jenin. 

Israel, which has launched a wide-scale manhunt, has yet to find the men.

Despite the Palestinian factions’ commitment to the truce reached with Israel in May, Islamic Jihad warned in a statement Sept. 7 against any Israeli attempt to harm inmates inside its prisons.

Meanwhile, the Israel Prison Service took a series of punitive measures in response to the breakout. It reduced the daily recess to one hour and the number of prisoners in the prison yards. It also closed the prisoners’ canteens, and moved the Islamic Jihad-affiliated prisoners between facilities.

On Sept. 8, the Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons declared a rebellion in response to a ban on lawyers’ and families’ visits, according to the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs affiliated with the PLO.

In another statement issued Sept. 8, Islamic Jihad called on Palestinians to protest along the demarcation lines, holding Israel responsible for what is happening with the prisoners in jails.

Atef Adwan, member for the Palestinian Legislative Council for Hamas, told Al-Monitor, “The decision to suspend popular activities is designed to give the mediators [Qatar and Egypt] the opportunity to implement the understandings they reached with the Palestinian resistance factions and the Israeli occupation state.”

Commenting on the factions’ commitment to this decision in case Israel killed the inmates who escaped, Adwan said, “The killing of the prisoners will lead to major problems; the situation could escalate further because it all depends on the safety of these prisoners. It is illogical to kill them because the search for freedom in all available means is a basic right of theirs.”

Islamic Jihad leader Ahmad al-Mudallal told Al-Monitor, “Islamic Jihad did not take any position on the suspension of popular activities in eastern Gaza. The decision has not been announced.”

Hassan Abdo, a political writer close to Islamic Jihad, told Al-Monitor, “Islamic Jihad [members] are taking part in the popular activities. Halting these activities depends on enabling the reconstruction process and allowing the entry of goods into Gaza, including construction material.”

He added, “Israel views the launching of incendiary balloons from Gaza into southern Israel as a means of combat, which is not the case. Rather, the launching of balloons delivers a political message that the factions do not want a military confrontation with the occupation, but rather they want the inhumane siege to be lifted since its continuation will eventually lead to a new clash between the resistance and the occupation.”

On the Islamic Jihad’s commitment to the truce in the Gaza Strip in case Israel kills the six fugitives, Abdo said, “Al-Quds Brigades — the Islamic Jihad’s military wing — warned the Israeli occupation that any harm to the lives of the prisoners would lead to a retaliation from Gaza.”

Talal Okal, political analyst and writer for the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “The popular activities deliver political messages that give the mediators the opportunity to pressure Israel to activate the pending files, including the siege, the entry of goods and the reconstruction process.”

He said, “During his visit to Gaza Emadi held productive meetings, and Aaraj spoke of incentives to start the reconstruction process, which means that the goal is being achieved.”

Okal noted, “The escape of the prisoners from jail is a moral and political issue for Gaza, since it was viewed [by the resistance] as a victory. The next step would be to ensure their safety.”

However, Okal ruled out the possibility of an implosion in the Gaza Strip if Israel kills the six fugitives, especially if the reconstruction process is initiated. He believes that Islamic Jihad is not the sole decision-maker in the Gaza Strip.

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