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Hamas makes arrests over Gaza mortar fire, as unity tensions spiral

Hamas keen to preserve ceasefire with Israel after mortar fire, as the Fatah-Hamas war of words escalates over migrant tragedy
Israeli tanks leave the Gaza Strip on 26 August after the ceasefire with Hamas is agreed (AFP)

Hamas authorities in charge of the Gaza Strip told Israel on Wednesday that they have arrested the people thought to be responsible for firing two mortars towards southern Israel on Tuesday night.

The shells landed between Eshkol and Sdot Negev on Tuesday, and no damage or injuries were reported.

Hamas told mediators that it was keen to preserve the ceasefire, and that the group's security services had arrested suspects in the case, Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post reported.

After rocket sirens sounded on Tuesday evening, Israeli officials told Hamas that if the perpetrators were not apprehended, the Israeli army would intervene, according to Israel Radio.

The attack was the first such incident since the signing of a bi-lateral ceasefire between Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza and Israel on 26 August.

There have been numerous reports of ceasefire violations by Israeli forces – on 13 September the Palestinian Fishermen’s Union said that Israeli naval forces had fired towards Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of the Gaza Strip.

Social media users tweeting using the hashtag #WatchIsrael have also documented a reported 26 ceasefire violations by Israel since the truce was announced.

Allegations of ‘treason’

As Hamas appeared to take a conciliatory tone with Israel, further tensions appeared to ignite between Hamas, which rules Gaza, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank.

People smugglers on Monday rammed a boat packed with 500 migrants, after they refused to move to an even smaller vessel for fear it would be too small to carry them safely.

Arabic news site al-Ghad has now published a list of 88 people from Gaza that it alleges were killed after the boat sank. The death toll from Gaza, however, is expected to keep growing with the International Organisation for Migration (IMO) dubbing the incident “mass murder”.

The deaths came after another 15 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip drowned in the sea off the coast of Egypt on Saturday night, when the boat they were in struck an underwater rock.

The dual disasters have caused an uproar in Palestine, and have further exposed fissures between Hamas and Fatah, who announced an uneasy unity government in April 2014 after seven years of fierce division.

On Monday, Fatah spokesperson Ahmed Assaf accused Hamas of “high treason” and said that the group was “implicated” in the Saturday disaster.

Assaf held Hamas responsible for helping the Palestinians travel through underground tunnels from the Gaza Strip to Egypt, from where they boarded the doomed vessel.

He said Hamas was “continually” responsible for forging passports, smuggling and “participating in displacing our people from the Strip through tunnels.”

Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri hit back at the remarks on Wednesday insisting that Fatah's comments were the latest example in a “systematic campaign of defamation against the resistance.”

Zuhri, instead, said that Hamas is holding the Fatah government in the West Bank responsible for the deaths, “because of their negligence of the suffering of the people of Gaza and of the crimes of the [Israeli] occupation.”