In a loud bang that broke the silence of no-peace and no-war in the Gaza Strip, a leading figure in the Hamas military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, was killed near his house last week. The killing was claimed to be, as is almost routinely customary in these cases, an Israeli assassination by Palestinians and was met equally as routinely by official silence from the Israeli military side. The slain leader, Mazen Fuqaha, is a former detainee who was released in the 2011 prisoners’ exchange carried out between Hamas and Israel in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held by Hamas between 2006-2011. Fuqaha, a native of the West Bank city of Tubas, was internally exiled to the Gaza Strip as a part of the terms of his release along with dozens of other freed detainees.
Fuqaha was assassinated near his house in the Tal el Hawa neighborhood in Gaza City. Unknown men opened fire on him and injured him fatally in the head from close range, leaving him instantly dead. It is relatively common knowledge that Israel has assassinated dozens of Palestinian activists and military figures, in Palestine and abroad, since its inception in 1948. However, after the most recent peak during the Second Intifada between 2000-2005, the assassination policy seemed to have subsided in past years, as Israel policy has focused less on individual assassination, and the overall security conditions, especially in the West Bank, improved. This apparent assassination, whether it is confirmed or not, comes a few short months after a similar fate befell another Hamas military leader, Mouhamad Al-Zuari in Tunisia, which was covered in a previous Friday’s Fact.
Observers around the region are concerned that, the two events coupled with the rapid escalation on the Gaza Strip/ Israel border, combined with the lack of development to end the ten-year long Palestinian schism between the West Bank and Gaza Strip seem to push the region towards a boiling point. Over the past few months, Israel has led limited land incursions into the Gaza Strip’s buffer zone and its surrounding areas, as well as various missile and air assaults on claimed Hamas training grounds in the area. During the same time frame missiles have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The Israeli military actions have led to the death of a Palestinian teenager two weeks ago.
Interestingly, while threatening retaliation, Hamas has not commenced any direct military response to Israel’s actions or claimed assassinations. Senior Hamas leadership, including Khaled Meshal, Ismail Haniyeh and Khalil al-Hayya all parroted the accusations against Israel and the vows of the revenge that the thousands attending Fuqaha’s funeral shouted. The leadership also stressed that Fuqaha did not have any enemies, thus placing Israel in the accusation box alone and denying any possible rumors of internal Hamas struggle for power.
While the retaliation has not occurred yet, it is difficult to observe the events in and around the Gaza Strip without noticing a familiar and unsettling pattern. The past few months have been the largest escalation of violence since the last war on Gaza ended in 2014. The situation is thus ripe for a familiar explosion that would lead to familiar results; massive human cost and little resolution.