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Latest Gaza flareup: what does it mean?

4 min

Jérusalem (AFP)

A truce in Gaza has left Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battling to keep his government afloat after defence minister Avigdor Lieberman walked out in protest.

Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, welcomed Lieberman's resignation on Wednesday as a "victory" -- but what will it mean for Gaza?

What's the context?

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in Gaza since 2008, interspersed with simmering hostilities and periodic spikes in violence.

Hamas refuses to recognise Israel. The Jewish state, like the United States and the European Union, defines Hamas as a "terrorist" organisation. For over a decade Israel has maintained a crippling blockade on the coastal strip.

Gaza, already languishing in poverty and suffering shortages of goods and materials, has also been hit by sanctions imposed by the rival Palestinian Authority of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, based in the West Bank.

Tensions have soared since the March 30 start of what the Palestinians call the "Great March of Return," a mass protest movement calling for Palestinians to have the right to return to homes they fled or were expelled from during Israel's creation in 1947-48.

Clashes along the Gaza-Israel border, Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel and Israeli air strikes have killed at least 235 Palestinians and two Israelis. A Palestinian man working in southern Israel was killed by a Palestinian rocket on Tuesday.

Israel has accused Hamas of orchestrating the border protests and the organisation has shown it can reduce their intensity when it wishes.

What happened this week?

An apparently botched Israeli army raid into the Gaza Strip triggered the worst escalation in violence since 2014 and brought the two sides to the brink of war.

Palestinians responded with massive missile fire and Israel then staged air strikes against dozens of positions of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad.

On Tuesday, Hamas and Israel accepted an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire.

Denouncing it as "capitulation", Lieberman resigned from his post the next day, leaving the government with a majority of just one seat in parliament.

What did Hamas gain?

Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared the ceasefire with military powerhouse Israel "a political victory".

It came after Israel in October allowed Qatar to provide Gaza with fuel to help ease its chronic electricity crisis, under a UN-brokered deal.

Last week Qatar began handing out millions of dollars to Gazans, primarily to cover the salaries of officials working for Hamas.

A total of $90 million is to be distributed in six monthly instalments.

In parallel, Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker a long-term Gaza-Israel truce in exchange for Israel easing its embargo.

What do Gazans think?

The events of the past week gave a boost to Hamas and its allies, said Gaza political analyst Mukhaimer Abu Saada.

"But if there is a war that could change," he said.

After the pounding Gaza took in 2014, most residents want above all to avoid a rerun.

What of the Palestinian search for statehood?

Indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas have eroded the status of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Although recognised by the international community, it did not play a role in the recent Gaza talks.

Hamas evicted the PA from Gaza in 2007. Abbas, a historic advocate of a peace settlement with Israel, wants to regain his authority in the Strip, but does not appear to be making headway for now.

A peace initiative by US President Donald Trump is expected to emerge in the next few months.

The PA fears that it will drive the wedge even deeper between Gaza the West Bank, two territories long envisaged as part of a unified Palestinian state.

Jamal al-Fadi, a professor of political science in Gaza, says such a divide suits Israel.

"We can not have results against Israel except by unity," he said.

The next flareup?

This ceasefire, like others before it, is fragile and could easily be derailed.

With the Israeli political tensions unleashed by Lieberman's departure, there will be fresh domestic pressure on Netanyahu to hit Hamas harder.

"The coming days will be difficult" for Gaza, al-Fadi says.

"It was a right-wing government and the (next) elections will bring another right-wing government," he said.

"Unfortunately aggression against the Palestinian people will continue."

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