David Harris
April 5, 2010 - 12:00am

Israel Air Force aircraft on Sunday opened fire at two Palestinians, who Israelis claimed seemed to be laying explosives near the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported.

The incident came one day after four Palestinian organizations met in Gaza. There remains a degree of uncertainty as to what really happened during the meeting, while media reports suggest the Palestinian Islamic resistance movement Hamas called for calm on the part of the armed factions in the Palestinian coastal enclave.

Those followed escalating violence between Palestinian militants and Israel over the last couple of weeks, which have aroused the international community of great concerns.


There has been more than a year of relative calm following the bloody fighting between Israel and Hamas that erupted in December 2008, as Hamas maintains a shaky ceasefire with Israel after the major conflict. However, the situation turned into a high tension again in March.

Several Israelis and Palestinians were killed in the rocket attacks and Israel's retaliatory strikes, with Israeli airstrikes reaching a new height at the end of last week with a series of raids reminiscent of those that lead up to Israel's ground invasion of Gaza a year ago.

After two senior Israeli government ministers warned that Israel will take a tough stance if the rocket attacks continue, Hamas' political leader, the Damascus-based Khaled Mashaal, said on Saturday that Israel is planning another operation against Gaza.

"The possibilities for war exist in the entire region," Israeli news service Ynet quoted Mashaal as saying after a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions in Damascus.

Israeli analysts believe the recent increase in clashes must have been a part of the deliberations at the hastily-called meeting on Saturday, attended by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

A well-informed source close to Hamas told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that "the participants agreed on certain tactics to avoid a possible Israeli army retaliation that might harm the Palestinians' interests."


The meeting was called by Hamas and the call for calm behind closed doors was reportedly made by senior Hamas officials, yet Israeli analysts still question Hamas' role in the violence along the border between the Palestinian strip and Israel.

The idea is shared by both Dan Schueftan, who directs Israel's National Security Studies Center at Haifa University, and Ely Karmon, an expert on the movement at Israel's Interdisciplinary Center.

Karmon believed that Hamas is orchestrating some of the violence. He points to the fact that when an Israeli soldier was killed last week, the incident was filmed and broadcast by the movement.

"Hamas is trying to show that it is still continuing to fight. It's doing so with rockets and mortar rounds. It's also trying to control the border fence," he said.

The messages from the meeting about the need for calm are only a part of the story, the analyst said.

On the other hand, all the comments made by delegates following the session indicated that Israel was not the key topic of the meeting but rather it focused on the needs for internal Palestinian harmony and for Egypt to once again try to broker a peace deal between Hamas and the leading Palestinian political force Fatah.

Cairo has remained publicly silent on this suggestion since Saturday's parley. Its past experiences in trying to cut a deal between Fatah and Hamas have all failed. Egypt has all but sealed its border with Gaza and remains highly critical of Hamas policies.


Despite the current tension along the Gaza border, analysts deem that both Israel and Hamas do not want to see their people caught up in more bloodshed.

At the height of the tension and Israeli airstrikes last week, Mashaal told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Hamas does not want to see an increase in violence.

"Hamas is not interested in the escalation of tensions and is taking corresponding measures to prevent missile strikes from Gaza, " the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS quoted Mashaal as saying.

In the eyes of Israeli analysts, Israel has also no interests in an escalation along the border with Gaza.

Though Israeli ministers have expressed hard positions against the attacks of Palestinian militants, Israel's response will likely remain in a degree of limitation, a report of Israeli leading daily Ha'aretz commented.

The Netanyahu government has more other headaches to deal with, said the report, adding that, besides easing the crisis with the United States over the Jerusalem issue, it is also Israel's wish to avoid a wider confrontation with the Palestinian National Authority.

The U.S. Obama administration has repeatedly appealed Israel and the Palestinians to maintain restraint as to pave a way for the possible proximity talks between the two sides.

Israel has "no interest in another war in the south, and certainly not in another Goldstone report," said the Ha'aretz report.

However, for the time being it is still difficult to see which way the wind is blowing, as Karmon points out, the current war of words is continuously fanning the flames. In the meanwhile, the current unrest and clashes in Jerusalem are by no means helpful for mitigating the flames.


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