The world looked elsewhere in August as Israeli aviation bombed the Gaza Strip for 19 consecutive nights in retaliation for the launch of hundreds of explosive and incendiary balloons and a handful of rockets. The largest war escalation between Israel and Hamas since November – one hundred Islamist targets attacked and more than 200 fires that devastated crops in neighboring kibbutz – has only stopped after the exponential multiplication of corona virus infections in the coastal enclave, until now barely affected by the pandemic because of their forced isolation. The images that now arrive from the Strip are those of a ghost territory subjected to general confinement for two weeks.
Hamas has made the ceasefire in force since the beginning of September conditional on the urgent inflow of medical aid for its undeserved hospitals. Israel demands an end to the harassment on the border and again demands the delivery of two captive civilian hostages in the Strip and the remains of two soldiers killed by Palestinian militias since the 2014 war.
Of the little more than a hundred cases of covid-19 imported by Gazans returned from Egypt between mid-March and the end of August, of which only 37 remained active, the Palestinian territory exceeded 870 community infections last weekend, distributed throughout the territory. And from a single death accounted for by the pandemic, it has now gone to seven. In impoverished and densely populated Gaza, where two million people are crammed into 360 square kilometres, measures to control the spread of the virus are complex to apply.
The UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has made an urgent appeal to the international community to finance with 80 million euros measures to control the spread of covid-19 and aimed at alleviating the misery of the population. “The real challenge facing Gaza is the lack of medical equipment, such as respirators, for the most serious cases,” says a United Nations spokesman. The World Health Organization has provided means of protection for health personnel and medical and laboratory equipment, but they are insufficient.
In return for the cessation of the launching of incendiary balloons towards the kibbutz located near the border divide, Israel has again allowed the entry of fuel into the Strip in order to restore operation to the only power plant in Gaza, paralyzed since mid-August . It has also expanded the permitted fishing zone in Gaza’s territorial waters and other economic measures. Given the intensity of the balloon attacks, sometimes loaded with explosives, the Israeli security forces deployed a “laser cannon” that intercepts the artifacts in the air two kilometres away, once detected, with an effectiveness of 90%.
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s political leader in Gaza, has also demanded that Israel abide by the ceasefire agreement agreed in November, which involved the construction of a gas pipeline to the power plant and the creation of an industrial estate of Israeli companies in the border to create jobs in Gaza, with an unemployment rate of 44%.
Qatari mediation, rather than the usual indirect negotiation with Israel through Egyptian military intelligence, has been key this time in agreeing to a cessation of hostilities. The Doha government has provided 27 million dollars (22.8 million euros) to pay the salaries of officials of the Hamas-controlled administration and help the neediest families, before announcing the increase in its financial contributions to support stability in the Strip. Qatar has been decisively involved in the achievement of the truce following the recent normalization of diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
The recognition of the Jewish state by the Abu Dhabi regime has broken the consensus of the so-called Arab Peace Initiative, which requires the prior creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The diplomatic turnaround has had the indirect effect of bringing people closer together. the Palestinian Authority, controlled by the nationalist Fatah party, to its rivals Hamas, after the violent break in the 2007 Islamists’ seizure of power in Gaza.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke in a video conference from Ramallah (West Bank) with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, who was in Beirut. “We must restore national unity and end the Palestinian division to face threats to our people,” emphasized the Islamist leader. As an effective reconciliation measure, Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai Alkaila traveled to Gaza on Friday for the first visit by a Ramallah Cabinet member to the Strip in more than two years. “The violence (in recent weeks) has completely disrupted the ability of Gaza’s health system to cope with the rapid increase in infections,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian aid coordinator for the Palestinian territories.