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Is Hamas losing control of Gaza?

Israeli soldiers on patrol at Nir Am, on the border with the Gaza Strip, 18 February 2018 MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

Israeli warplanes carried out a new round of strikes in the Gaza Strip on Monday after a rocket fired by Palestinians hit southern Israel. Experts believe that Hamas, the group which runs the enclave, may be losing control of it.

The latest cross-border exchange follows a weekend escalation of violence that is among the most serious since Israel and Hamas fought a war in 2014.

Tit-for-tat exchanges started after an apparent Palestinian booby trap exploded Saturday, injuring four Israeli soldiers inspecting the border fence.

Israeli ground forces then killed two Palestinian teenagers in cross-border fire, while its air force hit 18 Hamas facilities in two waves of air strikes on Saturday and Sunday.

'Constant escalations' in Gaza

“There are constant escalations which derive from the conditions in Gaza – vis-á-vis the ongoing blockade of Gaza and the deteriorating humanitarian conditions there,” Yossi Mekelberg, an expert on Israeli politics and security at Regent's University London, told RFI. “But also Hamas is gradually losing control of what’s happening in Gaza.”

“Hamas is clearly very eager to continue this period of tranquility,” added Ely Karmon, senior reserarch scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel. “From a strategic point of view, the Egyptians are pressing Hamas and Qatar is no longer supporting it financially as it was in the past.”

It is not clear who was responsible for the first rocket attack on Gaza, although a senior Israeli official said on Monday that a "rogue group" had claimed responsibility for the bomb blast, probably referring to one of the more radical Islamist groups in the enclave.

Iranian influence

“It’s possible that Islamic Jihad [was responsible] – in this case as a kind of revenge for the fact that three weeks ago we destroyed a strategic tunnel of this organisation which penetrated Israeli territory,” said Karmon.

“The two organisations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are factions of the old Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza,” Karmon added. “But Islamic Jihad had, by the 1990s, already aligned itself theologically with Iran. While Hamas has a strategic cooperation with Iran, not ideological or religious, Islamic Jihad accepted the doctrine of the Iranian revolution – so they are more easily manipulated by Iran.”

“The other possibility is that this [came from] jihadist groups which do not respond to the authority of either Hamas or Islamic Jihad.”