Travel Alert – Palestinian Territories…

Drum Cussac has issued this latest warning for U.S. Citizens traveling in to Palestinian Territories.  This information is available to GeoBlue plan members from the GeoBlue website daily…

Removal of Hamas Border Patrol Units Points to Heightened Fears of Conflict Escalation

Category: Conflict

Severity: 3 (Moderate)

Source: Drum Cussac

02/02/2014 (Palestinian Territories/ West Bank and Gaza Strip) – According to Israeli media sources, Hamas has decided to remove its rocket-prevention force on the border separating Gaza from Israel following the Thursday, 30 January Israeli strike on infrastructure in Gaza. Nearly all of the 900-men strong unit has been redeployed for police operations inside the Gaza strip. The move by the radical Islamist movement controlling Gaza has raised fears among Israeli officials concerning a possible conflict escalation. Israel’s Defence Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, stated that should Hamas be unable to contain the numerous armed groups trying to stage cross border attacks, Israel will continue to target its personnel and infrastructure. In addition, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz stated that if rocket fire continued to target Israel, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) could move into Gaza and remove Hamas from power.

The risk rating for the Palestinian Territories is currently HIGH. The rocket-prevention force was deployed by Hamas in July 2013. The unit was first comprised of 600 men. Its strength was subsequently increased to 900 units. The role of the force is to prevent Gaza-based militant groups from firing rockets toward Israel. The squad was put in place in a Hamas move to limit the risk of escalation with the IDF. Since the November 2012 conflict between Hamas and Israel, the radical Islamist movement has refrained from targeting Israel with rocket fire.

While the information concerning the redeployment of the rocket-prevention force cannot be independently verified, it points to an escalation of tensions between Gaza-based militant groups and Israel. Since the beginning of 2014, approximately 30 rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel. In 2013, a total of 36 rockets were fired. Recent developments in the Gaza strip indicate that the Hamas government is challenged by rival militant groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The removal of the rocket-prevention force may be due to Hamas’ need to increase armed elements to police Gaza cities, but it may also point toward a new Hamas policy that would leave more space to local militant groups to commit attacks in order to decrease internal political tensions.

A full-scale conflict between Israel and Gaza-based armed groups appears unlikely in the immediate future. However, rocket fire against Israeli targets is likely to result in additional airstrikes and border violence. Should the volume of attacks increase, further Israeli operations are to be expected in the short-term. Clients operating and travelling in the Gaza Strip are advised to maintain a constant state of vigilance and heed all emergency orders and alerts issued by local and Israeli authorities. Internal travel within the Gaza Strip should be conducted in coordination with a reputable local guide who is likely to know which areas and buildings associated with armed outfits to avoid. Clients should not approach the border fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel as Israeli forces frequently use lethal force against suspicious movements.

Copyright © 2014 Drum Cussac

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