Thursday, August 01, 2013

1-Aug-13: Escalating troubles in Sinai and Gaza: Is it still news if Israel can't be blamed?

Rafah, near Gaza's border with Egypt: Each of the tents and
canopies covers a tunnel mouth [Image Source: Majed Abusalama]
Linda Gradstein, writing for The Media Line (and Ynet) describes a steadily growing shortage of fuel in the Gaza Strip, with serious and visible consequences. A Gazan economist she quotes says only about 25 percent of the required level of fuel is now available, and cars are lining up for hours at gas stations. Sewage treatment plants have been shut down, with untreated effluent being dumped into the Mediterranean. Naturally, this - along with the ecological mess it causes - is going to be blamed on the Israelis.

But in reality the cause is Egypt and Hamas.

Gradstein says the Egyptians have shut down 80 percent of the tunnels, numbering in the hundreds, that run between Egypt and Gaza. An extensive security crackdown waged by the transitional Egyptian government is underway right now. It's directed at the Sinai-based gunmen and terrorists about whom we have written here frequently.

But, and this is new, it's also directed at Hamas, whom the new Egyptian rulers accuse of conspiring with the overthrown Morsi government to carry out attacks on Egyptian soldiers and police in Sinai.

The Egyptians say the weapons for those attacks come through the tunnels and the perpetrators can flee into the safety of Hamas-controlled Gaza. hence the crackdown. And Israel? Listen to this:
Israel is making every possible effort in order to enable the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip given the current policy,” Guy Inbar, the spokesman for the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT). "We emphasize that Israel does not limit the amount of goods transferred to Gaza and that the Kerem Shalom crossing has yet to reach its maximum capacity. As for today, it is possible to transfer 400 trucks every day, but the demand from Gaza is lower, and on an average day we receive requests for about 300 trucks.” Inbar said that in the last three weeks, 165 fuel tankers have passed via Kerem Shalom at the request of the Palestinians from Gaza.
We visited the crossings last summer and heard the same analysis.

Israeli sources quoted by Gradstein say Israeli fuel is three times more expensive than Egyptian, so sharp price increases are expected. Cement and other construction materials are also in short supply now, and the large and heavily publicized Qatar-funded building projects are currently on ice.

In an Al-Monitor piece on the Egypt/Hamas tensions ["The Silence on Gaza"], Shlomi Eldar looks closely at Gaza's problems and predicts worse ahead:
If, until recently, it seemed to the leaders of Hamas both in Gaza and on the outside that after seven years of a suffocating siege, all their troubles were about to disappear, they are now seeing their world turning against them... [Recently] the skies came crashing down on them. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was deposed, and Hamas was pilloried along with him. Egypt’s new regime considers Hamas an enemy. The Egyptian army has launched a far-reaching offensive in the Sinai, and is waging a war of annihilation against the subterranean network of smuggling tunnels in Rafah, which were the main source of food and raw materials for the Gaza Strip. The light they saw at the end of the tunnel just a few months ago went out in a flicker. The markets emptied of goods, gasoline for automobiles has just about run out, and emergency stockpiles of gasoline and diesel fuel are running very low as well. The electricity is turned off every few hours, hospitals report that there is a shortage of drugs, and even cigarettes have vanished from the shops. Right now Gaza is going backward six or seven years to a situation in which it is hermetically sealed off, almost as it was after the Hamas military coup of June 2007. [Eldar]
Eldar thinks it's astonishing that Gaza's growing problems are triggering so little responsiveness among the circle of Hamas-friendly parties in the area.
  • "Why isn’t the Al Jazeera network heard broadcasting from the Gaza Strip encouraging the local residents to take to the streets en masse, to tear down the wall around Rafah and burst into the Sinai?" asks Eldar.
  • And the recently installed emir of Qatar, Gaza's recent hero, has he gotten lost? From Qatar, there is not "a word of condemnation directed at the new military and civilian leadership in Egypt", says Eldar.
  • After all the reports in recent months that Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "the self-appointed patron of Gaza" was going to be visiting Gaza, it's now off the agenda. Turkey is no longer threatening to send its warships to sail alongside "aid" flotillas as they try to break through Israel’s maritime siege.
  • The organizers of the bloody 2010 Turkish flotilla that included the Mavi Marmara, are silent. Nowhere to be seen. Eldar asks: "Isn’t this the perfect time to get the boat ready for another voyage? Isn’t this the right moment to recruit volunteers from Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and the Gulf States to load crates of food and medicine on deck, so that they can be delivered to the people of Gaza, who are under siege?" But they're not coming.
  • Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, who sailed on board the yacht sponsored by the group “Free Gaza” is missing in action. Doing nothing. Saying nothing.
The answer, says Eldar, is obvious
This time there is no way to accuse Israel, because it is not involved in the injustice. These days, Israel barely imposes any restrictions whatsoever on the import of foodstuffs, clothing, and raw materials into the Gaza Strip. It is engaged in economic cooperation with Hamas, based on the transfer of goods through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. The real issue is that Hamas preferred to rely on the smuggling tunnels in Rafah, so as not to create a dependence on Israel.
Those smuggling tunnels, by the way, were not only Hamas' preferred option. They were central to the economic well-being of the fast-rising Gazan select nouveau riche, the favoured of Hamas society. And if they are being systematically shut down and destroyed by Egypt, this has implications. Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Israeli journalist whose writings we quote here often said something prescient a year ago:
If the Egyptian army succeeds in demolishing the underground smuggling tunnels that keep Hamas running, it could mark the end of the Islamists' rule over the Gaza Strip. But if Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood tie the hands of the Egyptian army's generals and keep them from completing the mission, Hamas will become even stronger and wealthier. [Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute Website, August 30, 2012]
His article is entitled "How Many Millionaires Live in the "Impoverished" Gaza Strip?". Since he's referring to the place that parts of the media routinely call a concentration camp, how does he answer?:
According to an investigative report published in the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, there are at least 600 millionaires living in the Gaza Strip... The Palestinian millionaires, according to the report, have made their wealth thanks to the hundreds of underground tunnels along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Informed Palestinian sources revealed that every day, in addition to weapons, thousands of tons of fuel, medicine, various types of merchandise, vehicles, electrical appliances, drugs, medicine and cigarettes are smuggled into the Gaza Strip through more than 400 tunnels. A former Sudanese government official who visited the Gaza Strip lately was quoted as saying that he found basic goods that were not available in Sudan... Palestinians estimate that 25% of the Hamas government's budget comes from taxes imposed on the owners of the underground tunnels. For example, Hamas has imposed a 25% tax and a $2000 fee on every car that is smuggled into the Gaza Strip. Hamas also charges $15 dollars for each ton of cement, eight cents for a pack of cigarettes and 50 cents for each liter of fuel smuggled through the tunnels. [Khaled Abu Toameh]
The chaos in Sinai is exacting a rising toll in blood. A Turkish news agency says, in a story filed from El Arish today, that
At least 42 people, including civilians and security personnel, have been killed in a spate of militant attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula since July 5, two days after the army ousted elected President Mohamed Morsi, according to a tally compiled by Anadolu Agency. One soldier was killed and another one wounded on Thursday (today) in an attack by gunmen on a security checkpoint in the North Sinai city of Arish.
Al-Masry Al-Youm, an Egyptian news source, today quotes an un-named "security source" saying that interrogations of those arrested in Sinai in the last few days
have proven that there are ties between the extremists in Sinai and foreign intelligence bodies. The same source told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the investigation carried out by the general and military intelligence bodies has shown that the extremists have ties to elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as in Gaza... Approximately half of the extremists in Sinai entered Egypt during the rule of ousted President Mohamed Morsy.
All in all, it's unlikely the violence in Sinai and the turmoil in Gaza are going to end quickly though we confess to wondering (despite the fingers pointed at Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Hamas regime) how long before it's all blamed on our side again.

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