Is Gaza a simmering cauldron or is it a model of coexistence?
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
he reality of the Gaza Strip, it appears, is
in the eye of the beholder.
Some officers of the Israel Defense
Forces (IDF) and the Palestinian
Authority security organizations think it's a simmer-
ing cauldron bound, sooner or later, to boil over.
Others call it a model of how Israelis and
Palestinians can live adjacent but separate lives.
While it's the center of a burgeoning cottage indus-
try of arms building and smuggling, Gaza has pro-
duced no suicide bombers, Israeli security sources say
— primarily because a fence around the area prevents
bombers from crossing into Israel.
For its part, the Palestinian
Authority is searching wildly for
ways to include rejectionist groups
such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad
— which are strongest in the Gaza
Strip — without having to confront
them in armed clashes.
In the meantime, Israel bites its
nails while it waits for the end of
the three-month hudna, or cease-
fire, that the main Palestinian ter-
rorist groups have declared. The
cease-fire is due to expire in late
September — at which time, as one
IDF officer put it, "the real show
Some of the tunnels — whose "engineers" earn a
handsome profit from material smuggled under the
border — are believed to lie as much as 80 yards
"Unfortunately, their digging of tunnels is much
faster than our ability to stop it," the senior officer
Israel demands that the Palestinian Authority dis-
arm the terrorist groups, destroy the Kassam lathes
and arrest militants, as called for under the road- map
peace plan. For years, it has said that the P.A. security
forces are strong enough to do the job.
That perception increasingly is being challenged.
Asked whether the balance of weapons in the Gaza
Strip tilts towards the rejectionist groups or the
Palestinian Authority, an IDF brigade commander
In private, however, IDF officials quote figures clos-
er to those given by Palestinian security chiefs — per-
haps 12,000 men under arms. Many of them are not
nearly as motivated as their counterparts in Hamas,
Islamic Jihad and the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
Pressed by reporters, the IDF brigade level com-
mander — who works closely with his Palestinian
counterparts in the field — admitted that, in an all-
out battle, the Palestinian Authority might lose to the
"The P.A. is aware of this," he said, "and so the
challenge for the Palestinians is to disarm the militant
groups peacefully. The P.A. believes that it can only
resolve" the issue "by including Hamas in govern-
PA.'s Big Challenge
The P.A.'s National Security Service, or NSS, the
apparatus tasked with disarming Hamas and Islamic
Jihad, is aware of the challenge.
"It's impossible to disarm Hamas," said Brig. Gen.
Sa'eb Ajez of the NSS. "We can understand that they
don't want a solution" to the conflict with Israel, "but
our chronic weakness is the question of how to dis-
arm or arrest them, especially in the past two years."
Yet Ajez notes what he calls some positive develop-
ments: The deal that P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud
Abbas negotiated with Hamas and Jihad stipulated
that the Palestinian Authority would not actively hunt
militants, but would work to prevent attacks.
"More than that, there is little we can do," Ajez
At least, the cease-fire has brought some respite for
Palestinian motorists who now are able to travel on
the Tancher road without being detained for hours at
checkpoints, Ajez said.
More farmers now can reach their fields, though
they still fear being mistaken for militants, Ajez
The most startling development is occurring in
towns next to Gaza's border with Israel: In Rafah last
week, Ajez said, local residents pummeled terrorists
who were attempting to set up a mortar to fire into
Israel. Mortar attacks often bring an Israeli military
Assemblying An Arsenal
response against the launching area.
An Israeli soldier watches the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel at
For now, the Israeli brigade commander says, a ten-
Hamas reportedly is using the
coexistence reigns in the strip. Motioning
cover of the cease-fire to build an
the traffic flow along the Tancher road at the
arsenal of 1,000 Kassam rockets
Katif junction, he called it "a great example of how to
that can fly a greater distance and
carry a warhead, a senior IDF offi-
Israeli settlers travel on a bridge that bypasses the
cer told JTA.
road, reducing friction between settlers and
That has sparked concern that,
hesitated for a moment, then noted that — given the
should hostilities resume, "the opening of the next
Palestinians almost to nothing.
accelerated weapons smuggling believed to be under
phase in the conflict will be much more violent," an
The Gaza Strip is a particularly good place to see
way during the cease-fire — the rejectionist groups
at work," the brigade commander said.
IDF brigade commander in Gaza said.
might well achieve the upper hand.
The 211-square-mile area has a "clearly demarcated
The materials to assemble the rockets are smuggled
"There have been so many arms smuggled in. We
and operating security fence. This allows all efforts to
under the Egyptian border through tunnels under-
can tell by the sheer number that we capture that
be made by both sides to prevent terrorists from leav-
neath Rafah, the major city in the southern Gaza
there must be much more that we don't capture," he
ing the strip."
said. "In my view, there are simply more weapons in
A definitive separation allows for communication
From there, the senior IDF officer said, the
the hands of the rejectionist groups than the P.A."
and, therefore, cooperation between Israeli and
weapons and bomb components are driven north
For months, Israeli security sources have said that
Palestinian security officers along the separation fence,
along Tancher road — the strip's main north-south
the Palestinian Authority has some 20,000 security
where Palestinian and Israeli outposts watch for
axis, which recently was reopened to Palestinian traf-
personnel in the Gaza Strip alone.
fic — to Khan Yunis or Gaza City.
"They are armed, have enough jeeps and cars,
Asked how he approaches the next few months, the
There, the senior officer said, Hamas is working on
enough ammunition and enough courts to arrest
officer said, "Well, I suppose with cautious opti-
a new version of the Kassam that could reach about
those men and take them to court," the senior army
10 to 12 miles, putting cities like Ashkelon and
Netivot within range.