Israeli cabinet to meet as Gaza violence escalates

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JOHANNESBURG, January 23 – The Israeli security cabinet convened on Wednesday morning to discuss heightened tensions and the outbreak of violence on the Israeli-Gaza border with a view of the next steps to be taken.

In the latest tit-for-tat violence the Israel Air Force on Tuesday struck targets in the northern Gaza Strip, killing a Hamas member and injuring another three members, one of them seriously.

Earlier a sniper from Gaza shot an Israeli soldier near the border but his helmet protected him from serious injury, the Israeli and Palestinian media reported.

The air strikes came hours after an Israeli official said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had decided not to allow a Qatari money transfer into the Strip following the escalation.

Gazans have been holding weekly demonstrations near the border with Israel, pushing for the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the coastal enclave to be lifted to ease the extreme poverty where two million people are crammed into an area of 365m2.

A Household Expenditure and Consumption Survey, released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) in May 2018, indicated there has been a significant increase in poverty rates in the Gaza Strip: from 38.8 percent in 2011 to 53 percent by the end of 2017.

This is the equivalent to around 1.01 million people, including over 400,000 children living in poverty.

Furthermore, two-thirds of Gaza’s poor, or about 656,000 people, are considered to be living in “deep poverty”, which means living on less than $3.6 per day, the minimum to cover only shelter, clothing and food needs.

Since Gazans launched the Great March of Return in March last year nearly 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli snipers during the protests and during clashes with Hamas gunmen.

During the protests, some of the demonstrators have hurled incendiary devices and also managed to break through the border fence with Israel.

Qatar in November began a six-month, $150 million programme to fund civil servant wages and shipments of fuel for power generation in Gaza, offering a measure of reprieve to the blockaded enclave. Another $15 million dollars were due to be delivered before Netanyahu’s blocked the move.

The organisers of the marches warned that unless the blockade was eased they would escalate their protests. Simultaneously Israel warned that any escalation would see a severe military response.

The border violence is also related to tensions building in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Over a hundred Palestinian political prisoners were hospitalised over the last few days with fractures and head injuries after the Ofer Prison, near the de-facto Palestinian capital Ramallah, was stormed by prison security forces after inmates launched a strike over searches for cell phones. The violence included prisoners setting fire to parts of the prison.

Angry Palestinians have subsequently been holding protests in the West Bank, slamming the Israeli authorities for what they see as excessive brutality.

Meanwhile, the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority (PA), which nominally controls the West Bank, has announced that it will not receive any further financing from the US after new legislation passed by the US Congress allowed for lawsuits to be filed against those receiving foreign aid.

A number of lawsuits were filed in the past by the Americans after dual Israeli-American citizens were killed by Palestinian gunmen during the second Palestinian Intifada or uprising.

Security cooperation between PA and Israeli security forces has been a cornerstone, in the eyes of the Israelis and Americans, in ensuring security in the West Bank. This too could now be under threat.

The PA’s is unpopular with many Palestinians who view it as a lackey of the West and a sub-contractor of the Israeli occupation. The regular abuse and arrest of Palestinians who criticise the PA are not helping matters.

According to Palestinian opinion polls, Hamas is now more popular than Fatah in the West Bank.

– African News Agency (ANA)