The head of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar met with UN Peace Process Envoy Tor Wennesland this morning. The two discussed the situation in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.
Following the meeting, Sinwar told a press conference that they discussed the reasons leading up to the recent situation in the Palestinian territories. “It was mainly the Israeli disrespect for international law and its gross violations,” he explained. “We stressed to the UN envoy that the root causes must be removed and the tension must be defused.”
The humanitarian situation in Gaza was also considered. “We reiterated that the harsh living conditions of the Gaza residents must end. The occupation authorities, which killed 66 Palestinian children last month, are trying to blackmail us as they refuse to lift the siege imposed on Gaza.” The meeting, he added, was “bad and fruitless”.
The Hamas official pointed out that he told the UN envoy that the Palestinians will never accept the continuation of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He warned that the resistance might agree to take action against the Israeli occupation. This could be “popular resistance,” but he did not say when and where it could start.
Immediately after concluding the meeting with the UN envoy, Sinwar declared that his movement is to meet with the national and Islamic Palestinian factions to decide how and when to respond. “The Israeli occupation is punishing all the Palestinians in Gaza,” he said, “so we are holding a meeting to decide how to put pressure on [Israel].”
According to political analyst Talaat Al-Khatib, “Sinwar is sending a message to the Israeli occupation. Describing the meeting as ‘bad and fruitless’, as well as saying he would sit with the Palestinian factions to discuss counter measures; this is a strong message.” He believes that the resistance groups might start using popular resistance. “But no one knows where the fireball will be heading if the enemy does not respond to the resistance groups’ demands.”
On 22 May, a ceasefire brokered by some Arab countries and the UN, and backed by the US, ended 11 days and nights of an Israeli offensive against Gaza, which killed around 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, 41 women and 16 elderly people. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, as well as shops, clinics, mosques and the Strip’s sewage, water, communications and electricity infrastructure.
The Palestinian resistance agreed to the ceasefire on condition that Israel would end its aggression against Jerusalem, Jerusalemites, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Gaza Strip; facilitate the reconstruction of Gaza; and end the 15-year siege imposed on the coastal enclave. Although the Israeli aggression against Gaza and its people ended, in Jerusalem it was just toned down. The other conditions were put off for later discussions. A month later, though, nothing is visible except Israel’s contempt for its own commitments.
The Palestinian resistance, meanwhile, has exercised great restraint, despite repeated Israeli violations. A senior commander of a Palestinian military faction told me that the resistance groups “planned to respond to Israeli air strikes carried out at the end of last week.” The next day, however, he said that, “Arab and international mediators had begged Hamas not to respond, pledging they would do their best to persuade Israel to respect the ceasefire conditions.”
A spokesman for the UN’s Wennesland told the media last week that, “He is continuing his diplomatic engagements with all sides [to consolidate] the fragile ceasefire.”
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz has said that the Israeli siege imposed on Gaza will not be eased before the release of the Israeli captives held in Gaza. This is ominous, and could trigger more violence with another disproportionate “response in self-defence” by the nuclear-armed occupation state of Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza.
The Palestinian resistance groups have refused to make a connection between easing or ending the siege and the release of the Israeli captives. They are, however, ready to engage in negotiations for a prisoner swap agreement. Around 4,500 Palestinian political prisoners are still being held by Israel in harsh conditions, including solitary confinement and detention with neither charge nor trial. They too, said Hamas and the other factions, deserve freedom.
When asked if the Palestinian resistance groups failed when they did not see the siege lifted before the ceasefire took effect, one resistance leader answered: “The battle was not to end the siege, but to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods. It aimed to maintain our dignity and that was achieved before the start of the ceasefire. However, the battle to end the siege has started and will continue until the siege is ended.”
The siege has been imposed by Israel with Egypt and backed by many Arab states and most Western countries since 2006, following the victory of Hamas in free and fair parliamentarian elections. No elections have been allowed since 2006. Those scheduled for last month were “postponed” by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose own term in office should have ended in 2009.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.