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Songs in Gaza Muffle Bombs as Cease-Fire Remains Elusive

White Flags
Palestinians fleeing Khan Yunis to safe areas hold white flags. Photographer: Belal Khaled/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ahmed Sameer plays children’s songs and animal videos to try to shield his three-year-old daughter from the sound of Israeli shells landing in Gaza.

The 32-year-old translator knows that with no family member dead and his home still intact, he’s living a “luxury” few can enjoy in Gaza. Yet he wants an end to the conflict that has killed hundreds of Palestinians and displaced tens of thousands of Gazans so his family stays safe.

“I want an immediate cease-fire for at least a week and then they can discuss the conditions for opening the borders and ending the blockade,” Sameer said by phone.

While united behind the cause to end Gaza’s isolation, pressure is mounting from people like Sameer for some sort of cease-fire to the fighting that began more than two weeks ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may meet with senior ministers in Jerusalem later today to consider a week-long truce proposal crafted by U.S Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel Radio said without citing sources. Khaled Mashaal, leader of the Hamas party that controls Gaza and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and European Union, told Palestinians this week to be patient, discounting an end to the hostilities before a siege on the territory imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2006 is lifted.

Armed Unit

Hamas was buoyed by the performance of its armed unit, the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, which has fired more than 2,500 rockets into Israel, disrupting flights for the first time at Israel’s main international airport since the Gulf War in 1991.

“The military wing is trying to prove that the way to extract political concessions is through a military confrontation,” Firas Abi Ali, senior manager for the region at research group IHS Country Risk, said from London. “They therefore need for the confrontation to run its course until the Israelis make more concessions than Hamas does.”

The conflict is the most serious violence between Israel and Gaza since 2009 and is the deadliest.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon traveled to the region this week to try to negotiate a truce without reaching a breakthrough. Hamas has rejected an Egyptian cease-fire plan early on in the conflict, while Israel has accepted it.

Tunnel Network

Israel said it invaded Gaza last week to destroy a network of infiltration tunnels dug under the Gaza-Israel border and to eradicate the infrastructure for firing rockets.

More than 700 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting and at least 4,500 injured, Gaza health officials said. Three civilians have been killed in Israel, including a Thai worker who died in a rocket attack on July 23. Thirty-two soldiers have died in combat and one is missing, exceeding the previous military engagements with Gaza.

The Gaza siege has battered the 140 square-mile (363 square-kilometer) strip’s impoverished economy and its 1.8 million people. Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields, claims that Palestinian officials have denied.

Mohammed Jundiya, 30, who fled his Gaza neighborhood of Shuja’iya last week before an Israeli offensive that killed 60 people, said a cease-fire is important because the targets of the strikes are civilian rather than military.

“People want to live a decent life,” Jundiya said by phone from Gaza. “They want to lift the blockade instead of dying slowly under siege.”

Suicide Bombings

The conflict has been a test for the unity of a group whose members are fragmented across the region.

Hamas, a spinoff of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was founded in 1987 amid the first Palestinian uprising and later gained notoriety for a campaign of suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis.

The group won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. It took control of Gaza the following year after a bloody confrontation with forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah in the West Bank.

The group is led by Mashaal, 58, who operates from Qatar. The rest of his political team is divided between Gaza and several Arab countries while the Qassam Brigades are in Gaza. There have historically been tensions between the outsiders and those in the Palestinian Authority, Gazans and West Bankers, hawks and doves, politicians and fighters.

At the start of the fighting there were conflicting reactions that hinted of divisions when Egypt came up with its cease-fire proposal. Qassam quickly rejected it while the political leadership took a few days before dismissing it.

Brigade Duties

Mashaal told the Al-Monitor website it was Qassam’s responsibility to deal with any violence with Israel.

“They are more knowledgeable about that,” Mashaal told Al-Monitor in an interview posted July 17. “They know their duties and capabilities and we as leaders have full confidence in the heroes of the resistance.”

Any differences that may have existed would at a time like this be put on the back burner, Kamran Bokhari, vice-president for the Middle East at Texas-based consulting firm Stratfor, said from Toronto.

“Every one of them is singing the same song right now,” said Bokhari, co-author of “Political Islam in the Age of Democratization” published last year. “At a sensitive time like this, I cannot imagine that the military wing is doing its own little thing and the political bosses are doing theirs.”

Mashaal is the head of the Sunni Islamist party’s political bureau, which acts like an executive, while the Shoura Council is its main decision-making body. He moved from Syria to Qatar after relations soured with President Bashar al-Assad because of his war against mainly Sunni insurgents that began in 2011.

Following Hamas

The Brigades have always abided by Hamas policies and committed to agreements it reached with other parties.

“It has never been a cause for a problem in the party or for its performance,” said Osama Hamdan, a Hamas politburo member based in Beirut.

After U.S.-sponsored peace talks collapsed in April, Hamas and the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resurrect their joint government that crumbled after 2007. Netanyahu urged the international community to shun the new administration.

Sameer, the Gaza translator, said the joint government was the “biggest achievement” of the two rival factions.

“I prefer unity because it gives people independence instead of being under the rule of Hamas or Fatah,” said Sameer. “Unity is a popular demand by all people.”

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