Intensive efforts on the part of Cairo to broker an agreement culminated this week as the Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza announced a ceasefire with Israel.
In a statement to the press, Islamic Jihad Spokesman Dawoud Shihab said the movement would remain committed to the agreement only on condition Israel did the same, warning it would retaliate should Israel repeat its attacks against Gaza during the weekly March of Return protests.
Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Quds Brigade, also released a statement warning that if Israel continued its aggression the movement would expand its scope of fire quantitatively and qualitatively.
An independent source in Gaza told Al-Ahram Weekly that the situation was now very volatile following a post-truce Israel attack which killed three Palestinian teenagers near the Gaza border with Israel.
Israeli authorities claimed that the children were planting explosive devices. The families of the victims say they had no links to any of Gaza’s political factions.
The incident triggered mass protests, with demonstrators calling on resistance movements to take revenge. Hamas facilitated the demonstrations and its media gave them extensive coverage.
Islamic Jihad issued a statement vowing it would retaliate “in a means and manner commensurate with the magnitude of this crime and the overwhelming fury it engendered among our people, our nation and all free peoples of the world. ”
The Weekly’s Gaza source says that through the demonstrations and its media coverage Hamas is seeking to pressure Cairo to push for a written ceasefire agreement while Jihad insists Israel has reneged on the conditions of the truce.
“We are looking at temporary ways to defuse the mounting escalation. What we had was an agreement without clear rules, the aim of which was to reduce tensions at the border,” says Mohamed Gomaa, a Cairo-based expert on Palestinian affairs.
Hamas did not sign the agreement. Islamic Jihad appears to have done so unilaterally, in an attempt to gain some traction in Cairo, according to a source in Gaza. The source said Islamic Jihad felt Cairo’s proximity to Hamas had come at the expense of the other factions.
The Gazan source noted that the Islamic Jihad is gripped by the “worst financial crisis in its history” and suggested that the movement may have been motivated to escalate the situation in the hope of obtaining funding from Iran.
Refuting complaints that the Cairo-Hamas relationship has sidelined other factions, sources in Egypt maintain that Cairo keeps all parties in the picture and is in constant communication with all sides.
They say Egypt has been keen to strengthen ties with Islamic Jihad, in which framework Cairo released 12 members of the movement who had been arrested for security reasons, bringing the number of Islamic Jihad members released recently to 15.
If the ceasefire agreement announced by the Islamic Jihad was not officially put to Hamas, Hamas was nevertheless involved. Its spokesman Fawzi Barhoum shared the Jihad’s appreciation for Egyptian efforts in brokering the agreement.
However, observers agree that as long as Hamas did not actually sign the agreement efforts to sustain it remain tenuous.
In fact, Israel continues to target Hamas. Last Friday Israeli forces bombarded four military sites which were totally destroyed according to a source in Gaza contacted by the Weekly.
Observers interpreted the bombardment as an Israeli attempt to sap Hamas’ strength in advance of any forthcoming confrontation. They also believe that Israel is working to drive a wedge between Hamas and Islamic Jihad and fragment the resistance front in Gaza.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 November, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: The Gaza truce