September 9, 2020 | Policy Brief

Hamas Prioritizes Terrorism Over COVID-19 Outbreak in Gaza

September 9, 2020 | Policy Brief

Hamas Prioritizes Terrorism Over COVID-19 Outbreak in Gaza

Amid a recent COVID-19 outbreak in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Israel agreed to a Qatari-brokered ceasefire last week but failed to reach a long-term truce. Hamas and other terrorist factions likely intend to resume terrorist activity in the near future rather than respond to the dire public health needs of Gaza inhabitants.

Hamas said it would give Israel two months to implement understandings made in previous ceasefires, such as extending Gaza’s fishing zone from 15 to 20 nautical miles offshore and increasing the number of work permits for Gazans to enter Israel. Additionally, the ceasefire agreement stipulated that monthly infusions of Qatari cash would continue in exchange for a cessation of arson attacks by Hamas and other factions.

Until recently, the Gaza Strip had largely been free of COVID-19 due to several factors: Israel’s blockade imposed in 2007 after Hamas took control of the territory; the limited entry of visitors through the Rafah and Erez crossings; and minor measures taken by Hamas to prevent the spread of the virus.

However, the situation changed on August 24 with Gaza’s first outbreak. On Wednesday, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health confirmed 87 new cases in the previous 24 hours, totaling 1,233 active cases, including a total of nine deaths since the outbreak started. Additionally, al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, announced on August 26 that one of its fighters died after contracting the virus.

Gaza hospitals have the ability to care for only 350 COVID-19 cases, meaning that the spread of the virus could easily overrun Gaza’s healthcare system. In an interview on Palestinian television in early April, Hamas leader Yahya al-Sinwar threatened to “stop the breathing of six million Israelis” if Gaza did not receive sufficient ventilators to treat sick Palestinians.

An August 3 statement by the office of Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ politburo, signaled the movement’s intent to continue to commit acts of terrorism against Israel in the long term. Haniyeh explained that “comprehensive resistance is a cornerstone of the future strategy, and it must be in all its forms and colors, with the military [al-Qassam Brigades] at the forefront,” the statement said.

Yet Hamas could receive the critically needed assistance by reaching a long-term truce with Israel. In early January, UN Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Jamie McGoldrick visited Gaza in an effort to mediate an agreement. However, McGoldrick’s efforts failed, leading to a resumption of cross-border attacks by Hamas, including a thwarted attempt in February to place an explosive device at the Gaza border, aimed at killing Israeli soldiers.

Moreover, in the first days of the COVID-19 outbreak in August, Hamas and other Palestinian factions continued arson attacks against communities in southern Israel after ordering a lockdown of the Gaza Strip. The continuation of the attacks demonstrated Hamas’ willingness to allow its operatives to carry out acts of terrorism despite an outbreak of COVID-19.

Hamas’ latest refusal to agree to a long-term truce with Israel in exchange for international assistance to combat COVID-19 provides clear proof that the terrorist group does not plan to ease up on its ill-intentions. As a result, the ceasefire will likely be short-lived.

Joe Truzman is an analyst and contributor at the Long War Journal (LWJ), a project of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). He also contributes to FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Joe, LWJ, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Joe on Twitter @Jtruzmah. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @LongWarJournal and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Issues:

COVID-19 Israel Military and Political Power Palestinian Politics The Long War