Palestinian militant groups come to blows over Israel diplomacy

Palestinian protesters burn tires on the blockaded Gaza Strip near Beit El checkpoint in Ramallah, West Bank. The two main militant groups are disagreeing over how to deal with Israel - Anadolu

Tensions between Gaza’s two largest Palestinian militant groups have spilled into the open as Islamic Jihad supporters angrily accused Hamas of not coming to their aid in this week’s fighting with Israel. 

Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group backed by Iran, fired more than 400 rockets into Israel this week in retaliation for Israel’s assassination of one of their senior leaders. But Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, stayed out of the fighting.  

Senior Hamas officials were accosted by Islamic Jihad supporters when they tried to visit a mourning tent for Baha Abu al-Ata, the assassinated Jihad commander. Some Jihad supporters threw stones at the Hamas leaders’ cars. 

The clashes, which were broken up by Hamas policemen, were a rare public show of the fractures between the two groups. 

An Israeli missile launched from the Iron Dome defence missile system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shellsCredit: AFP

Hamas did belatedly fire fire two rockets into Israel early on Saturday morning, the Israeli military said. Both rockets were shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system and Israeli warplanes struck Hamas targets in response. 

An Israeli official said it was not clear yet who gave the order for the rockets but it may have been a face-saving gesture as Hamas tried to fend off allegations that it had stood by and left Islamic Jihad to fight alone. 

Islamic Jihad usually cooperates with Hamas but also sometimes tries to outflank the larger group and present itself as the true armed resistance to Israel by firing rockets. 

That impetuousness has at times been a source of frustration for Hamas, which has been engaged in quiet indirect negotiations with Israel for more than year. 

The two mortal enemies have held stop-start talks towards a deal in which Israel loosens its 12-year blockade of the Strip, in return for Hamas halting rocket fire and keeping the border quiet.

But Israeli officials say those understandings have been interrupted several times recently by al-Ata’s rocket fire from Gaza, including an attack that sent thousands fleeing from a music festival this summer. 

Israel’s military described al-Ata as an obstacle to “different diplomatic arrangements”, a coded way of referring to an understanding with Hamas. 

Palestinian pupils hold a commemorative picture of their late classmate Moaz Abu Malhous at his school in Deir al-Balah town in central Gaza Strip, on November 16, 2019, two days after he was reportedly killed in an Israeli strike.Credit: AFP

Which is why early on Tuesday morning Israel fired a missile into his home in the Shajaiyah neighbourhood of Gaza City, killing al-Ata and his wife. 

In the fighting that followed Israel focused its fire on Islamic Jihad and tried to avoid striking Hamas. A total of 34 people, of whom 18 were militants, were killed in Gaza.

Eight civilians, including five children were killed in one Israeli strike. Israeli said it was targeting an Islamic Jihad commander but acknowledged Friday it may have been a case of faulty intelligence.