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In Gaza, Palestinian indifference to Blinken's visit to Israel, West Bank

The armed factions in the Gaza Strip are not paying much attention to the visit of the US secretary of state to the region, and vowed continued retaliation against the Israeli military operations in the West Bank.
Palestinians celebrate in Gaza City on January 27, 2023, following a shooting attack by gunman outside an east Jerusalem synagogue. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

GAZA CITY — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will not be going to Gaza on his visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah this week, and Gazans are showing a level of apathy as well as resentment at Washington's support for Israel in the conflict. 

The visit, which comes on the heels of the worst escalation in over a year between Israelis and Palestinians, is seen by those inside the Hamas-controlled enclave as further proof of US support for Israel.

Rockets fired by Palestinian factions lit up the sky of the Gaza Strip on Friday, as armed factions retaliated against the Israeli raid in Jenin in the northern West Bank that killed nine Palestinians, including members of the militant group the Islamic Jihad, and two civilians the day before.

On Friday, a mass shooting killed seven Israelis outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, while another two Israelis were wounded in another shooting attack in the city on Saturday. 

Gaza resident Mahmoud Youssef told Al-Monitor, that the attacks that killed Israeli civilians in Jerusalem are justified.

“The killing of the settlers in Jerusalem is a natural result of the months-long flareup as the Israeli provocations and raids in Palestinians cities and the daily killings of Palestinians continue. The Jerusalem shooting was also justified in light of the Israeli raid in the Jenin camp, which killed 10 Palestinians," he said. 

“The armed factions fired rockets from Gaza toward Israel in response to the killing of civilians in the Jenin camp, which is also a natural reaction," Youssef added. 

He saw Blinken's visit as a signal of support to Israel. “We, as Palestinians, hope that the US changes its positions, since we are the owners of this land and we have the right to it," he said. 

Another resident, Ramzi Mahmoud, told Al-Monitor that the people of Gaza are fed up.

“We hope the US administration helps ease the situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem. But we in Gaza can no longer tolerate further escalation,” he said.

Ramzi described a situation that's on verge of explosion in light of the political deadlock, the failure of the two-state solution. 

Armed factions in Gaza are calling for a gathering in central Ramallah on Tuesday to reject Blinken's visit and the US policy. Islamic Jihad spokesperson Daoud Shehab spoke to Al-Monitor about the role of the United States in the region, accusing it of bring a culprit of Israel's.

“The US moves come in the framework of its policy to protect Israel’s security only. The United States is the main partner in the war that Israel is waging in the West Bank and Jerusalem," Shehab said.

“Based on that, we do not see any point in betting on the US administration, which has not changed its policies toward the conflict and remains biased in favor of Israel. Thus, we do not welcome the visit," he added. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a designated terrorist group by the US and governments in Europe. 

Commenting on the tensions in the Gaza Strip and efforts to de-escalate the situation, Shehab said that he believes Israel will not heed any talk from the American side regarding the situation in Gaza or the West Bank as long as US financial and military support for Israel continues. "Israel does not take into account the soft diplomatic messages,” he said.

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem voiced his view of the US motives in visiting the region in a conversation with Al-Monitor. “We are used to visits by US administration officials, including [President Joe] Biden’s visit to Israel [last summer]. These visits come in support of Israel and aim to ensure Israel’s military success in the region," he said. 

Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, and the enclave of over 2 million people has been under a blockade by Israel. According to the United Nations, over 65% of the population in Gaza is under the poverty line. 

“The US administration needs to pressure Israel to stop the open massacres it is committing in the West Bank and the ongoing violations against the Palestinians in Jerusalem," Qassam noted. 

In an interview with the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen TV, Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, warned that the factions in Gaza would retaliate against Israel's actions in the West Bank.

In response to the rockets fired from Gaza toward southern Israel, the Israeli army responded by bombing military sites and underground weapons factories belonging to Hamas across the enclave.

On Friday, dozens of Palestinians protested along the Israel-Gaza border to condemn the Israeli military escalation in the West Bank. 

Meanwhile, Hamas is pushing for a swap deal with Israel involving Israeli prisoners who have been detained since the 2014 war.

Israeli media reports claimed recently that head of Hamas’ political bureau Ismail Haniyeh and his deputy, Arouri, issued directives to prepare for the kidnapping of more Israeli soldiers to pressure Israel to accept a swap deal with the movement.

In mid-January, Hamas’ armed wing released a video of Israeli civilian Avera Mengistu in which he is seen pleading for his government to release him.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, continues to hold four Israeli captives, including soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were captured during Israel’s war on Gaza in the summer of 2014 and who Israel claims were killed. The other two are Israeli civilians Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who were captured after they entered Gaza under mysterious circumstances in September and December 2014.

In light of the ongoing tensions in the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian Authority announced last week the cessation of security coordination with Israel in response to the killing of nine Palestinians during the raid in the Jenin refugee camp. 

The PA decision came during an emergency meeting of the Palestinian leadership held at the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, in the presence of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. 

Speaking to reporters ahead of Blinken’s visit to the region, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf criticized the PA’s decision to end security coordination with Israel.

Gaza-based political analyst Mustafa Ibrahim believes that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are not satisfied with the current US and Israeli policies. “The new Israeli government is considering a new law that grants Israeli soldiers immunity from accountability for field executions of Palestinians in their homes in the West Bank. Israel also continues to displace Palestinians from their lands in Masafer Yatta, an area in Hebron, and in the Negev,” he told Al-Monitor.

Ibrahim added, “The Israeli policy in the West Bank will have dangerous repercussions, as the extreme right-wing government seeks to annex the West Bank. Things may deteriorate in Gaza in light of Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s warnings about Operation Guardian of the Walls 2, as an extension to the previous operation led by Israel in May 2021, and which led to a war between the Gaza factions and Israel.”

The situation continues to escalate in the West Bank, where settler violence is expected against Palestinians in response to the shootings in Jerusalem. The Palestinian factions in Gaza, in turn, have reiterated their right to retaliate to Israel's military actions, which may lead to a new confrontation in the Gaza Strip as Israel attempts to achieve the gains they say it failed to make during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021.

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