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Gaza - Recent Developments

In August 2005, Israel withdrew 8,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza. In September 2005, Israel withdrew all its settlers and soldiers and dismantled its military facilities in the Gaza Strip and four northern West Bank settlements. Nonetheless, Israel controls maritime, airspace, and most access to the Gaza Strip. A November 2005 PA-Israeli agreement authorized the reopening of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt under joint PA and Egyptian control. In January 2006, the Islamic Resistance Movement, HAMAS, won control of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The international community has refused to accept the HAMAS-led government because it does not recognize Israel, will not renounce violence, and refuses to honor previous peace agreements between Israel and the PA.

In 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, Hamas, a terrorist organization, backed candidates under the "Reform and Change Movement" ticket and won 74 of 132 seats in elections that generally met democratic standards. Since March 2006, President Abbas had little success negotiating with HAMAS to present a political platform acceptable to the international community so as to lift the economic siege on Palestinians. The PLC was unable to convene in late 2006 as a result of Israel's detention of many HAMAS PLC members and Israeli-imposed travel restrictions on other PLC members.

Violent clashes took place between Fatah and HAMAS supporters in the Gaza Strip in 2006 and early 2007, resulting in numerous Palestinian deaths and injuries. ABBAS and HAMAS Political Bureau Chief MISHAL in February 2007 signed the Mecca Agreement in Saudi Arabia that resulted in the formation of a Palestinian National Unity Government (NUG) headed by HAMAS member Ismail HANIYA. In March 2007 Hamas formed a national unity government (NUG) with the Fatah party. However, fighting continued in the Gaza Strip and after three months Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in Gaza and killed hundreds in the Fatah movement and PA security forces. In June 2007, HAMAS militants succeeded in a violent takeover of all military and governmental institutions in the Gaza Strip.

ABBAS dismissed the NUG and through a series of Presidential decrees formed a PA government in the West Bank led by independent Salam FAYYAD. HAMAS rejected the NUG's dismissal and called for resuming talks with Fatah, but ABBAS ruled out negotiations until HAMAS agreed to a return of PA control over the Gaza Strip and recognized the FAYYAD-led government. FAYYAD and his PA government initiated a series of security and economic reforms to improve conditions in the West Bank. ABBAS participated in talks with Israel's Prime Minister OLMERT and secured the release of some Palestinian prisoners and previously withheld customs revenue. During a November 2007 international meeting in Annapolis Maryland, ABBAS and OLMERT agreed to resume peace negotiations with the goal of reaching a final peace settlement by the end of 2008.

In January 2008 hundreds-of-thousands of Palestinians broke through the Gaza border fence and poured into Egypt. They stocked up on food and supplies in defiance of a crippling Israeli blockade. Egypt has fortified the border since then because it sees a flood of Palestinians into its territory as a threat to national security.

Although a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect June 19, 2008, the Gaza Strip continues to be a potential center of violence between Israeli security forces and Palestinian terrorist groups. Militants there abducted Western citizens, and terrorist organizations have threatened attacks against U.S. interests.

Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza shelled civilian targets in Israel. In Gaza there were reports of corruption, abuse of prisoners, and failure to provide fair trials to those accused. Hamas also strictly restricted the freedom of speech, religion, and movement of Gaza residents, and promoted gender discrimination against women. Residents of Gaza continued to be denied the right to political participation and to choose their government. Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza launched rockets and mortars against civilian targets in Israel.

In response to a sharp increase in the number and frequency of rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza shortly prior to and following the formal expiration of the "calm" on December 19, 2008, the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead, consisting initially of airstrikes December 27, targeted against Hamas security installations, personnel, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip, followed on January 3 by ground operations. The operation concluded in mid-January. Human rights organizations estimated the number of dead at 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 1,000 civilians, and the wounded at more than 5,000. According to Israeli government figures, Palestinian deaths totaled 1,166, including 295 noncombatant deaths.

The Israeli government prohibited all citizens, including journalists, from entering Gaza; those who entered were subject to legal penalties such as fines and restraining orders. The Supreme Court reviewed and upheld this policy, based on the ongoing, armed conflict between Israel and the terrorist organizations. On May 12, 2009 authorities detained Haaretz reporter Amira Hass as she returned to Israel after repeatedly entering and spending four months in the Gaza Strip. She was not arrested but was released on condition that she would not reenter Gaza. Several other journalists were warned, but none were arrested or indicted.

Beginning in November 2008, the government prevented foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip. In November 2008 the Foreign Press Association in Israel filed a petition to the High Court of Justice requesting that it overturn the ban. On six occasions in December 2008, 54 journalists were allowed to cross. In December 2008, the court requested the state to put in place a procedure for entry, but with the start of the land operation on January 4, the government decided it could not implement the procedure due to the change in security circumstances. All restrictions on movement were removed on January 23, immediately following the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead.

The Department of State urged U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip, which is under the control of Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization. American citizens in Gaza are advised to depart immediately. The U.S. Government does not permit its personnel to enter the Gaza Strip, making it difficult for Americans in the Gaza Strip to receive consular assistance. Please contact the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem for updated guidance, if necessary. Private vehicles may not cross from Israel into Gaza or from Gaza into Israel. The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is generally closed and the Gaza Airport is no longer operating.

The June 2012 victory by Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in presidential elections in Egypt raised concern in neighboring Israel. Israel fears that Egypt will turn a blind eye to increasing terrorist activity in the Sinai Peninsula, and strengthen ties with the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which Israel and the West regard as a terrorist organization, welcomed the Egyptian election results as a great victory. Tens of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets of Gaza to celebrate, handing out candy and waving Egyptian flags.

There was drama on the high seas October 20, 2012 as a ship challenged Israelís naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. A Swedish owned ship, the Finnish-flagged Estelle, carrying 30 pro-Palestinian activists from eight countries tried to break Israelís naval blockade on Gaza. But the vessel was intercepted by the Israeli Navy about 60 kilometers off the Gaza coast, and it was boarded by commandos. Qatar's emir received a hero's welcome in the Gaza Strip October 23, 2012 when he became the first head of state to visit the Palestinian territory since Islamist Hamas militants took control in 2007. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh greeted Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani on a red carpet after the Qatari leader crossed over from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Tuesday. In a visit lasting several hours, Sheikh Hamad inaugurated a Qatari aid program to help Gaza rebuild from the damage caused by an Israeli offensive against Hamas in 2008.

An informal truce brokered by Egypt took hold October 25, 2012 after days of rocket fire and retaliatory airstrikes. The Israeli military said Thursday that no rocket fire had been detected since late Wednesday, and that it had not carried out any airstrikes against Gaza since Wednesday morning. Two days of Palestinian rocket and mortar fire into southern Israel damaged homes and wounded several laborers working field near the border. Israel says the barrage included about 80 rockets. Israeli airstrikes against Gaza killed four Palestinians. An Israeli air strike on the Gaza Strip before dawn October 28, 2012 hit two Palestinian militants, killing one and wounding the other. An Israeli military statement said its aircraft targeted a rocket-launching site where militants were preparing to fire a rocket into southern Israel. Later Sunday, Israeli officials said rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel without causing any casualties. The incidents followed a three-day lull between the two sides, bringing some respite from a recent upsurge in cross-border fighting.

On November 14, 2012 an Israeli airstrike in Gaza killed the top military commander of Hamas with Israel warning other Hamas members not to "show their faces above ground" in the next few days. Israeli aircraft attacked dozens of targets in air raids against militants in the Gaza Strip in the following days, as Israel unleashed Gaza - Operation Pillar of Defense . On November 21, 2012 a cease-fire in Israel-Gaza hostilities brokered by Egypt went into effect Wednesday night, but not before last-minute exchanges of volleys between Israeli forces and Hamas militants who run the Palestinian enclave. Gazans poured into streets after the cease-fire began and celebratory gunfire was heard. After days on near non-stop barrages, the Israeli aerial assaults appeared to have stopped. Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr made the truce announcement in Cairo with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at his side. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak also said Israel had achieved a majority of its objectives, destroying rockets, launch sites and Hamas bunkers. He also said Israel's Iron Dome defense system had knocked down more than 500 of the rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza strip.

On June 24, 2013 Israeli military aircraft attacked targets in the Gaza Strip, after military officials say at least four rockets were fired at Israel from the territory. The military said the attack struck a rocket launch site and two weapons storage facilities.Israeli and Palestinian sources say the strike did not cause any injuries. Rocket fire from Gaza had declined since the deadly military confrontation in November. Before then, militants had fired rockets into Israel on a near-daily basis.

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Page last modified: 05-05-2019 18:07:02 ZULU