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Gaza in State of Alert

by AFP

Mahmud Hams—AFP

Palestinian strip reels from two suicide bombings that killed three police officers

Gaza’s ruling Hamas said on Wednesday two overnight suicide bombings killed three Palestinian police officers in the strip, placing the Palestinian enclave in a state of alert.

Interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm said in an evening statement that they had identified the two bombers who blew themselves up at two police checkpoints in Gaza City. He did not name them but said security forces “continue to investigate who is behind them.”

Witnesses told AFP that both bombings were carried out by assailants on motorbikes. A source familiar with the investigation said a Salafist movement in Gaza that sympathizes with the Islamic State jihadist group was suspected.

The interior ministry said two of the police officers were 32 and the third was 45. Hamas’s military wing hailed them as members.

New police checkpoints were set up in Gaza City as authorities investigated the attacks. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya sought to calm fears of unrest in the enclave of two million people. “We assure our people that whatever these explosions are, they will be brought under control as with every previous event, and will not be able to undermine the stability and steadfastness of our people,” he said in a statement.

Hundreds gathered for funerals for the three police officers.

Suicide bombings are rare in the Gaza Strip. In August 2017, a suicide bomber killed a Hamas guard in southern Gaza on the border with Egypt.

Hamas has run the Gaza Strip since 2007 but has been regularly criticized by more radical Salafist groups in the impoverished, Israeli-blockaded coastal territory. The Israeli military said it had not carried out any air raids at the time of the latest bombings.

The bombings come at a sensitive time. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and tensions have again risen in recent weeks ahead of Israel’s Sept. 17 elections.

Late Wednesday, a projectile was fired at Israel from Gaza, the Israeli army said in a statement, adding that it “did not cross into Israeli territory.” In response Israeli aircraft struck “a position of the Hamas terror group” in northern Gaza, the army said.

A Palestinian security source said the Israeli aircraft hit a Hamas observation point close to Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, with no casualties reported.

On Tuesday, the Israeli army bombed a Hamas military post after militants in the strip fired a mortar round across the border. On Monday, Israel launched airstrikes against Hamas in response to rocket fire, while it also halved fuel deliveries to the enclave. The punitive reduction in the flow of fuel to the strip’s main power station means a cut in Gaza’s already rationed electricity supply.

The incidents have threatened a fragile truce that had cooled several severe flare-ups between Hamas and Israel in recent months. Brokered by U.N. and Egyptian officials, the ceasefire also involves aid to the Gaza Strip from Qatar.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid an escalation in Gaza before the polls due to the political risk involved, but he has faced calls for strong action from his electoral opponents. As a result, there has been speculation in Israel that Hamas has turned a blind eye to recent rocket fire and infiltration attempts by more radical elements instead of preventing them in a bid to pressure Netanyahu into further concessions.

Hamas has not claimed responsibility for the recent cross-border incidents. Other militant groups, most prominently Islamic Jihad, also operate in the Gaza Strip.

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