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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – When fighting broke out between Israel and the radical Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad, here earlier this month the battle lasted only three days but took its toll: Ministry of Health Gaza said 49 Palestinians were killed, including 17 children.
The Israeli Army said are targeting Islamic Jihad members are accused of planning or carrying out attacks against Israelis. Israel said it had killed 20 militants and admitted to killing some civilians. Islamic Jihad responded to the attacks by firing more than 1,100 rockets, according to Israelwhich said several rockets killed Gazan civilians as the bullets fell short and landed in Gaza.
People in Gaza said they believe the violence and protracted duration would be even worse if the larger, ruling militant group, Hamas, were involved. But in a change of tactics, Hamas solved this problem.
Tsafrir Abayov / AP
Since fighting – bloodiest in Gaza since last year 11 days war – residents are having a difficult discussion about the role of militant groups.
Most Gazans support the resistance against Israel because of their treatment of the Palestinians, and the militants also have active supporters. But many residents expressed frustration with these groups over issues such as unemployment and poverty. And some analysts see a rift forming between Hamas and jihad, though they see unity.
People want a voice when war breaks out
“Where is the role of the people when these factions go to war?” asked Ahmed, a 37-year-old man who wanted to use only his name to speak freely without fear of revenge by the militants. “Everybody should have a say… because in the end we have to pay the price.”
Ahmed is sipping tea with friends in a park in Gaza City. The park and surrounding streets are completely dark – as severe power shortages often lead to power outages here.
Ahmed says he supports Palestinian resistance, but he blames the jihadist organization for escalating the latest conflict to reach an agreement with Israel and free some of its prisoners. surname.
Ahmad Hasabalah / AP
He was happy to see Hamas stay out of the fight. “Maybe Hamas has finally realized that war brings nothing but destruction,” he said.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad: partners and opponents
Hamas capture Gaza from the Palestinian Authority about 15 years ago, resulting in Israel imposing heavy restrictions on goods and people transiting the Gaza border. Hamas has participated in many wars against Israel.
Both Hamas and Muslim Jihad are listed as terrorist organizations by the United States, the European Union, Israel and other governments. The groups share some common ideologies; Analysts say both want an Islamic Palestinian state – something many in Gaza support. Neither group recognizes Israel’s existence.
Their official line is to present a united front.
However, some Gazans accuse Hamas of abandoning jihad, even as Israel targeted the group’s leaders this month. Israel called the operation a success that made the jihadist organization serious again.
Adel Hana / AP
On Monday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders met to discuss bilateral relations and put forward a Joint statement affirmed their unity, stating that “resistance was the strategic choice in confronting occupation.”
However, the rivalry between the two has never been clearer, according to Tholfekar Swairjo, a former political analyst. is a spokesman for a secular leftist Palestinian movement and now provides commentary in the local media.
“First of all, Hamas wants to protect its power in the Gaza Strip. “There is anger boiling in the streets against the Hamas movement. They are blamed for the very low quality of life in Gaza, and so now they don’t want to get involved in any possible wars. increases the level of anger towards them from the Palestinians.”
Swairjo said that Hamas cannot jeopardize recent understandings with Israel that will bring economic relief to Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians from Gaza are now allowed to work in Israel, and goods and supplies into Gaza have also increased.
Islamic Jihad – considered tougher – considers it sold out.
“Muslim jihadists say that the economic incentives given to Gaza by Israel have become a knife in the neck of the armed resistance,” Swairjo said.
Two militant groups are also competing for supporters. And according to Swairjo, Hamas has lost some of its motivation to recruit into Islamic Jihad.
Unlike Hamas, which participates in the elections and is currently in power, Swairjo said, jihad has no political ideology or even a goal other than opposing Israel. And that can attract a lot of different groups, from Muslims to secularists and leftists.
Gazans lose hope in their future
However, for many Gazans, there is no difference between Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Fatima Shbair / AP
On a crowded beachside terrace, Reham, 32, is smoking a pipe known as a hookah with friends. She only gave her name to NPR so she could speak candidly about politics without fear of militant groups.
“Most Gazans have stopped believing in Hamas and others,” she said. “You know why? Because they don’t feed us, they don’t provide anything. You have to depend on yourself. How can we build a future with these people? And all the back-to-back wars?”
The presence of militant groups is also threatening and divisive, she added. Fighter planes are often targeted by Israelis, and civilians living near them can become casualties.
“People are starting to get scared about where they live, who their neighbors are, what their political leanings might be,” says Reham. “It affects community relationships.”
She and many others consider it foolish to expect stability in Gaza.
“There are no guarantees for anything in Gaza,” she said. “We don’t know when, why and how war broke out.”
All that is known is, when war breaks out, she says, no one is safe, regardless of politics.
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