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Gaza: Hamas 'won't sit idly by' if Ben-Gvir makes incendiary Al-Aqsa visit

Gazans anxious about next possible Israeli attack after new, far-right government sworn in
Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel's new minister of national security and leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, greets supporters during a visit to Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market on 30 December 202. (AFP)
By Adam Khalil in Gaza City, occupied Palestine

The Palestinian movement Hamas has warned Israel that it “won’t sit idly by” if new security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visits Al-Aqsa Mosque as he vowed to do on Sunday.

Ben-Gvir’s office has told police he wants to visit the holy site on Tuesday - a Jewish fast day commemorating events related to the destruction of the temple that once stood at the site - or Wednesday, according to Israeli TV channel Kan.

“I thank the media for taking an interest in the issue of visits to the Temple Mount,” Ben Gvir tweeted in response to the report, using the Hebrew name for the site. “Indeed, the Temple Mount is an important topic, and as I said, I intend to visit the Temple Mount,” without specifying a date.

In response, Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, reportedly told Israel - via Egypt - on Monday that Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government will face consequences if Ben-Gvir makes the visit.

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According to a report by the Lebanese Al-Mayadeen news channel, which is close to Hezbollah, Hamas “won’t sit idly by” if Ben-Gvir goes to the site, one of the holiest in Islam and Judaism, violating an agreement banning non-Muslims from entering the site without permission.

Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif al-Qanua said earlier on Monday that the planned visit was "another example of the arrogance of the settler government and their future plans to damage and divide Al-Aqsa mosque".

"The Palestinian resistance will not allow the neo-fascist occupation government to cross the red lines and encroach on our people and our sanctities."

Benjamin Netanyahu's sixth government, the most right-wing administration in Israel’s history, has said that its main guiding policy will be that "the Jewish people have an exclusive and indisputable right to all areas of the Land of Israel". 

"The government will promote and develop settlements in all parts of the Land of Israel in the Galilee, Negev, Golan, Judea and Samaria," it said on Wednesday, using the Israeli names for the occupied West Bank. It has said less about its policy towards Gaza.

The new administration includes MPs from the Likud party, far-right religious Zionist factions and ultra-Orthodox parties, who together hold 64 of parliament's 120 seats.

As well as attempting to annex large swaths of the occupied West Bank, they are expected to try to expand illegal settlements and allow Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa Mosque.

How Hamas might respond has been the subject of intense speculation.

‘Gaza cannot be kept quiet’

For Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Gaza's Al-Azhar University, “confrontation is inevitable".

"The agenda of the new right-wing government is clear towards annexing parts of the West Bank and changing the status quo in Jerusalem, and this will cause a great reaction from the Palestinian factions in Gaza," he told Middle East Eye.

In May 2021, settler attacks on Palestinian families in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Israeli police violence at Al-Aqsa led to deadly rocket exchanges between the Israeli military and Hamas in Gaza over 11 days, killing 248 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel.

'Palestinian factions in Gaza are preparing for confrontations'

- Ayman al-Rafati, analyst close to Hamas

In August last year, following the arrest of Bassam al-Saadi, a senior member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Jenin, Israel - allegedly fearing retaliatory attacks - bombed Gaza for three days, killing at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children, before a ceasefire was announced with Egyptian mediation.

"What happened last August, as well as in 2021, is clear evidence that what is happening in the West Bank may be reflected in the Gaza Strip. Gaza cannot be kept quiet all the time without a reaction," Abu Saada added.

Hossam al-Dajani, a political writer close to Hamas, told MEE that further "escalation” could lead “at some point to the outbreak of a comprehensive Intifada that changes the role of the Palestinian Authority [which runs parts of the West Bank]. And then it will move to Gaza and the rest of the Palestinian presence, leading to a decisive battle with the occupation."

Ayman al-Rafati, a political analyst who is also close to Hamas, does not expect the new government to make any changes in its Gaza policy anytime soon, however.

"Perhaps the government will try during the coming period to avoid a clash with the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip, so as not to enter into major problems and explode more than one front at the same time," he told MEE.

He added that the “red lines” mentioned by Hamas in its statement are: "Changing the status quo in occupied Jerusalem, increasing the pace of “Judaization”, changing the “shoot-to-kill” policy in the occupied West Bank, and implementing threats related to toughening the conditions of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons.

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"Palestinian factions in Gaza are preparing for confrontations with the occupation over the next year in the event the red lines are crossed."

Political writer and Israeli affairs specialist Mustafa Ibrahim predicts less violence. "Hamas may not initiate a confrontation with Israel, and there will be no different Israeli policy towards Gaza, and it would like to focus more on the West Bank and Jerusalem," he told MEE.

"Israel will try hard to maintain calm in Gaza and keep it neutral from what is happening in other parts of the Palestinian territories,” he added. “This is an old policy and it will continue.”

While the analysts speculate, Gazans worry the new government may provoke Palestinian factions in Gaza and trigger a new confrontation.

"We do not like war, and we do not want it. We want to live in peace,” said 46-year-old Rahma Saadi. “We want to live a decent life like other people in the world. They should allow us freedom of movement, treatment, import and export so that we can be in a better reality."

For Khalil Rajab, 70, "this government is no different from its predecessors. They all see us as Palestinians who must be uprooted. They are just waiting for the right moment."

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