There is growing escalation on the northern and eastern borders of the Gaza Strip, as the Palestinian factions step up their activities on the ground to pressure Israel into easing the siege on Gaza.
The Palestinian factions say they are organising marches in response to Israeli violations of the holy sites at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Occupied Jerusalem, but people also took to the streets after the failed mediation of Qatar Ambassador Mohamed Al-Emadi, head of the Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza.
Last week, Al-Emadi shuttled between Gaza and Israel in efforts to prevent tensions rising during the Jewish holidays.
The Palestinian factions, especially Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip, are demanding that Qatari funds be allowed to reach thousands of poor families in Gaza. Israel has linked allowing these funds through to continued calm in Gaza and the Palestinian factions ending their support for military activities by their members in the West Bank.
The escalation has included demonstrations on the outskirts of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, in the east of Gaza City, and on the eastern fringes of the Bureij Refugee Camp in Khan Younis, as well as in Rafah in the centre and south of the Gaza Strip.
The demonstrators detonated improvised explosive devices, and the Israeli army fired live rounds and used tear gas.
The protesters also burned rubber tyres, vandalised the barbed wire of the border fence, and threw rocks and fire bombs at Israeli soldiers. In response, the Israeli army bombed Hamas border checkpoints.
On Wednesday, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza recorded the killing of five people, including one child under the age of 16, in Malka east of Gaza City.
The Israeli army claimed an explosion had occurred when several youths attempted to plant an explosive device, but Palestinian sources said that the Israeli army had itself placed an explosive device on the border fence, and as the young men approached it, it had exploded.
Wael Al-Zard, the father of one of the martyrs, said his son has been involved in distributing aid to families in need at a charity that he headed. Hours before he was killed, he had posted on his social media page that he had just finished high school and enrolled at a university in Gaza.
Protests and marches continued along the Gaza border, and Palestinian journalists covering the events were specifically targeted.
The Palestinian Press Syndicate said that four journalists had been injured on the Gaza border, three of them by gas grenades, while journalist Ashraf Abu-Amra was injured by a bullet to his right hand that could result in amputation.
He was quickly transported to Turkey through the Rafah Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt for medical attention.
The Palestinian Press Syndicate, the International Federation of Journalists, and other international institutions concerned with press freedoms demanded the condemnation of Israel’s actions.
The Israeli escalation and targeting demonstrators with live bullets will likely increase the possibility of military confrontations with armed Palestinian factions that engage in military confrontations with Israel.
Ibrahim Al-Raqab, a political analyst, believes that Israel is trying to lure the Palestinian factions, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, into a new round of military clashes to escape the domestic crisis facing the government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Netanyahu is trying to export his internal crises after the continued domestic protests against his government’s plan to reform the judiciary,” Al-Raqab told Al-Ahram Weekly.
“He hopes to do this by provoking a military escalation with the Gaza Strip.”
He noted that Israel is using disproportionate firepower against the demonstrators in Gaza “in the knowledge that casualties on the border during activities sponsored by the Palestinian forces will create pressure on them to respond to Israel.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said in separate statements that they are monitoring conditions on the Gaza border, and both denounced the “Israeli crimes” there. Neither group launched rockets towards Israeli towns bordering Gaza.
Israeli and Palestinian estimates indicate that neither Israel nor the Palestinian factions want the escalation to expand, especially since widespread military confrontations in the Gaza Strip have not yielded any positive results in the living and economic conditions of the about 2.25 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
Instead, they have caused widespread destruction due to Israeli bombings.
Hamas prefers to maintain pressure through action on the border of the Strip, in addition to inciting groups to release fire balloons towards Israel that result in fires that cause Israeli settlers to protest against Netanyahu’s government.
Israel fears that the demonstrations will become a constant source of inconvenience for its soldiers on the Gaza border and will be used to monitor the locations of Israeli soldiers. They could also sabotage the border fence that Israel has erected to prevent infiltrations across the border.
Meanwhile, Israel is putting pressure on Hamas through economic measures that include shutting down the only commercial crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel and reducing the work permits granted to Palestinians working in Israel and the West Bank.
There are high unemployment rates in Gaza, and Israel has issued some 25,000 work permits to Palestinians from the Strip to work in Israel and says it will increase the number if Gaza remains calm.
Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, is facing a financial crisis that has forced it to pay only half the salaries of civil servants in August. It is also facing popular pressure as growing numbers of young people are leaving the Gaza Strip in search of opportunities elsewhere.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly