Gaza caught between coronavirus and Israeli siege

An outbreak of the coronavirus has complicated the already dire humanitarian situation in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

The outbreak comes amid tensions between Palestinian resistance factions and Israel over the latter’s crippling blockade imposed on the seaside territory since 2007.

This all leaves Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, with no option but to tread cautiously in containing the pandemic, while pressuring Israel to ease its restrictions on the territory’s two million population, according to political analysts.

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“Hamas has the necessary political tools to help it manage the current situation with Israel,” Tayseer Muheisen, a Palestinian political analyst, told Anadolu Agency.

“Despite the lack of all health capabilities, the Palestinian group somehow succeeded in managing the issue of the coronavirus,” he said.

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Health authorities have reported more than 350 virus infections in the Gaza Strip, including four fatalities.

The outbreak came as Israeli imposed several punitive measures on Gaza over the launch of incendiary balloons into southern Israel, including a halt of fuel imports into the territory.

Palestinian activists argue that the fire-bomb balloons were a tool to pile pressure on Israel to end its 14-year blockade on the seaside enclave.

“The reliance of Hamas on the tools of peaceful resistance indicates that the group is unwilling to engage with Israel in a wider confrontation,” Muheisen said.

Muheisen believes that Hamas can use the coronavirus outbreak to pile international pressure on Israel, at least to allow for the passage of humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and fuel into the Gaza Strip.

According to him, a careful management of the current tension allows mediators to pressure Israel to implement the agreed-upon truce understandings.

The Palestinian analyst, however, warned that the current situation could explode into a wider confrontation if the talks to ease the Israeli restrictions reached a stalemate.

Mediators from Egypt and Qatar have been shuttling to reach an understanding between Hamas and Israel to restore calm to the Gaza Strip.

A Qatar-brokered understanding was reached late on Monday between Israel and Hamas to reduce the escalation of conflict in the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Palestinian group Hamas said it had reached an understanding to "contain escalation and stop the Zionist aggression" against the Gaza Strip.

Political analyst Mustafa Ibrahim believes that the coronavirus outbreak limits the possibility of both Hamas and Israel pushing for a wider confrontation.

“Israel is going through a political, financial and health crises and is not prepared for a confrontation with unpredictable consequences,” he said.

“Similarly, the spread of the coronavirus in Gaza makes a wider confrontation an unrewarding idea in the short term,” he added.

While he agrees that the humanitarian crisis that has been worsened by the pandemic will gather international pressure on Israel to allow for the easing of the blockade, Ibrahim believes that this will only act as a “painkiller” for Gaza by keeping it alive but without helping it to develop on the long-term.

Wadih Abu Nassar, a political analyst and expert on Israeli affairs, opines that the continued launch of incendiary balloons from Gaza reflects the failure of the mediators to facilitate an agreement between Hamas and Israel.

“Israel is uninterested in achieving any real change in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

“The international community does not pay attention to the situation in Gaza and believes that the crisis can be solved by providing some financial aid,” Abu Nassar said. “There is no Israeli or global plan or vision to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza."

The Palestinian analysts thinks that Israel is wary of the spread of the virus in Gaza “as it will embarrass Tel Aviv in front of the international community, given the restrictions imposed on the territory by Israel”.

On Saturday, the private Israeli Channel 13 reported that Israel offered to assist Hamas in combating the virus spread on condition that the group halts the launch of fire-bomb balloons into southern Israel.

*This article is written by Nour Abu Eisha from Gaza*

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