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Is Hamas Losing Its Hold on the People of Gaza?

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In 2007, Hamas turned on Fatah, its political rival in Gaza, killing more than 100 and wounding five hundred Fatah fighters. The remaining Fatah men fled to the West Bank. Since then, Hamas has ruled Gaza with an iron grip. But there are signs that Hamas is no longer quite so secure. A report is here: “Is Hamas losing its grip?,” by Shahar Klaiman, Israel Hayom, December 14, 2021:

If Palestinian reports are true, then the arrest of senior Hamas leader Hassan Yousef by the Israel Defense Forces is another blow the terrorist organization received in the last few days.

Hassan Yousef is, in fact, not just a “senior Hamas leader,” but the co-founder of Hamas. It’s a great embarrassment to the group that Israel managed to locate and arrest him.

The first embarrassing incident occurred last week when senior Hamas figures threatened escalation [against Israel] on Arab media. Despite the threat, it became clear from Palestinian sources that there was no official decision made by the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip on any gradual escalation. As time went on and threats remained just that, they were perceived as an attempt to silence criticism leveled at Hamas by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second most powerful terrorist organization in Gaza.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in Gaza, has been winning adherents by presenting itself as a more determined foe of the hated Zionists. To counter PIJ, Hamas decided to threaten Israel with an escalation of Hamas attacks. The threats were made, repeatedly, but that promised “escalation” of attacks never occurred. Hamas is in no shape to take on Israel again, given the devastation wrought in Gaza during the 11-day war in May. The threats against Israel, with no follow-through, were correctly understood to be an attempt by Hamas to silence its critics in the PIJ, an even more extreme terror group than Hamas.

In a recent interview, Palestinian Islamic Jihad head Ziad al-Nahala attacked Hamas, arguing the group should not facilitate Israel’s issuance of work permits for workers from Gaza. He claimed Jerusalem was looking to turn Gaza and Palestinians in Judea and Samaria into warehouse workers.

Israel is trying to alleviate the unemployment problem in Gaza by providing more jobs to Palestinians in the Strip, and Hamas, sensible for a change, has cooperated with Israel in this undertaking. The PIJ head Ziad al-Nahala attacks Hamas for this, claiming that Palestinians in Gaza will only be hired for menial (“warehouse”) jobs. But what else could anyone reasonably expect, given the educational level of Palestinians in Gaza – jobs as astrophysicists and neurosurgeons? Even a warehouse job, or jobs in the main sectors of the economy where Palestinians have traditionally found work in Israel — in construction, or agriculture – are far better than no job at all. The PIJ apparently wants the Palestinians in Gaza to have no dealings, no matter how beneficial to them, with the hated Zionists.

Hamas also pointed a finger at Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, with hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness that typically characterizes terrorist organizations.

Hamas is angry that Israel still refuses to agree to a lopsided prisoner exchange, one where Hamas would release the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, and two mentally defective Israeli civilians who wandered into Gaza years ago, while Israel would release perhaps as many as a thousand Palestinian prisoners, as it did when it made the disastrous deal, in releasing 1,027 prisoners for a single soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Hamas is angry with Egypt because it believes Cairo, trying to mediate a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, is betraying the Palestinians by remaining neutral in the negotiations, instead of wholeheartedly embracing the Hamas position. Were Egypt to do that, of course, it would no longer be a neutral go-between, and Israel would cease to trust it. The mediation attempt would falter.

Hamas attacks the PA because it does to Hamas fighters in Judea and Samaria exactly what Hamas did to Fatah fighters in Gaza in 2007 – that is, repress them violently.

In fact, Hamas violated the ceasefire with Israel, as did the recent terrorist attack by one of its operatives in Jerusalem. Last month, an extensive Hamas infrastructure was discovered in Judea and Samaria that planned terror attacks against Israelis. For some reason, Hamas thinks it can incite and plan attacks in Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem without paying a price for it in Gaza.

Since the May ceasefire, Hamas has continued its occasional attacks – violations of the ceasefire — on Israel. From Gaza, Hamas rockets are still, but very rarely, fired into Israel, and arson balloons, that are let loose in Gaza to land in Israel where they set fire to farmland are a continuing threat. Hamas operatives remain hard at work in Judea and Samaria. A Hamas terrorist stabbed an Israeli in Jerusalem. A large network of Hamas terrorists was recently uncovered by the Shin Bet before they could carry out the terror attacks they had planned in Judea and Samaria. Another group of 10 would-be terrorists linked to Hamas has just been uncovered among the students at An-Najjar University. Hamas does not yet comprehend that its attacks, whether they succeed or not in Judea and Samaria, will be answered by Israel with attacks on Hamas not only in the West Bank, but also in Gaza.

As for Egypt, Hamas’ behavior is pure nerve. Cairo has already submitted plans for the construction of three residential cities and Hamas has already begun to search for areas where these cities – with hundreds of housing units – could be built. Now, it is precisely the threats that may delay the rehabilitation process.

Egypt has offered to help rebuild in Gaza with a grant of $500 million, a colossal sum for a third-world country like Egypt. Hamas has started looking for sites where Egypt could construct three residential cities for the Gazans. But even as it does so, its operatives continue to try to kill Israelis, and that, in turn, makes all of Gaza yet again a possible target for the IDF, determined to destroy more of Hamas’ weapons hideouts, rocket launchers, command-and-control centers, underground tunnels that the IDF didn’t have in May to totally destroy, and the rest of Hamas’ terror structure. Threats from Hamas against do not hasten, but delay, the possibility of “rehabilitating” Gaza after the mid-May destruction. Why should Egypt spent money in Gaza on residential cities if Hamas threats turn into terror attacks, and provoke an Israeli response that might well include attacks on those cities as they are being built?

The next embarrassing incident happened on Friday night. Lebanese media reported that a Hamas ammunition depot exploded in the heart of a Palestinian refugee camp. Hamas claimed a short circuit ignited oxygen tanks that were on site for coronavirus patients, but camp officials leaked information that it was actually a weapon storage facility.

The Hamas policy of hiding weapons in civilian areas has again caused casualties among the innocent. In the latest case, Hamas had stored weapons in the basement of a mosque located in a Palestinian camp in Tyre, Lebanon. The weapons exploded, killing and wounding civilians. Hamas insisted that there were no weapons stored in the mosque, only oxygen tanks for coronavirus patients. No one believed the terror group, and its attempt to deny its responsibility, instead of owning up and expressing sorrow, has only increased popular anger against it.

Hamas’ attempt to evade responsibility failed again, and the group sought to minimize the publicity damage during a visit by its leader, Ismail Haniyeh, to the house of a victim of the blast. This effort failed as well, as an exchange of fire broke out between Hamas and Fatah members, in which four Hamas members died, according to the organization.

The visit by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to the family of one of the victims did not quell popular outrage at Hamas for storing its weapons in the mosque. And at the funeral of one of those killed, Fatah men in the camp fired on Hamas fighters, killing four of them. This was in a camp that supposedly was under the control of Hamas, but Fatah fighters were clearly unintimidated. And four members of Hamas were killed, with no Fatah fighters hurt – a clear victory over Hamas, that now appeared weak to ordinary Palestinians.

After seizing control of Gaza, Hamas set its sight on Judea and Samaria, and Palestinian areas. In reality, the attempts to take over refugee camps in Lebanon and gain a foothold in Judea and Samaria are much more complex. Fatah is still going strong, as can be seen from its exchange of fire with Hamas. And in Judea and Samaria, Hamas is between the Palestinian Authority rock and the Israeli hard place.

After Hamas pushed Fatah out of Gaza in 2007, it thought it would be able to seize control of the Palestinian areas of Judea and Samaria, but fourteen years later, Fatah – the main faction in the PA — is still in control of the West Bank. Hamas has not been able to extend its rule beyond Gaza. And now it has a rival in the Strip, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, that has become increasingly popular for its uncompromising hostility to “the Zionist state.” Hamas had also hoped to take control of Palestinian camps in Lebanon, but that, too, has not happened. Fatah fighters are still much in evidence in the Lebanese camps, and willing to take on Hamas – as they did when they killed four Hamas fighters at the funeral of another Hamas member, who had been killed in the explosion of weapons in the basement of a mosque in a camp in Tyre. In the camps in Lebanon, no one Palestinian group dominates the others.

It is precisely in Gaza, the perceived unchallenged stronghold of Hamas, that the first cracks in the terrorist group’s foundations can be detected.

In Gaza itself, it is not Fatah, but Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that now most threatens Hamas. It is more extreme in its anti-Israel hatred, and accuses Hamas, in making its threats against Israel, of being all hat and no cattle. While Hamas issues those threats, it has been careful not to act on them – being in no position, so soon after the war in mid-May, to absorb punishing blows from the IDF, which would welcome an excuse to finish destroying Hamas’ underground tunnel network and force it to use up more of its estimated stock, still remaining, of 10,000 rockets and missiles.

In Lebanon’s camps, where Fatah continually threatens, and kills Hamas fighters with impunity, in Judea and Samaria, where both the Shin Bet and the Palestinian Authority collaborate on security by disrupting Hamas’ plans and arresting its members, and in Gaza, where Hamas’ greatest enemy is another terror group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, that goads Hamas leaders into making threats against Israel that they cannot possibly carry out, the terror group is being buffeted from all directions. It may yet discover that, at least in Gaza, Israel is not its worst enemy but, rather, the fanatics of the PIJ that threaten the too “moderate.” An internecine conflict in Gaza between Hamas and PIJ is not out of the question. So let us, on that hopeful note, conclude.

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