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‘All options are open’: Will Gaza join the uprising?

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OPINION by Ezz Zanoun – National police commissioner Riah Phiyega will remain on suspension with full pay until the board of inquiry into her fitness to hold office has completed its work, the Presidency said on Wednesday.

The Farlam Commission, headed by retired Judge Ian Farlam, investigating the deaths of 44 people killed during strike-related unrest at Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana, Rustenburg, in August 2012, recommended that Phiyega face an inquiry into her fitness to hold office.

“In terms of section 8(3)(a) of the South African Police Service Act, 1995, the president has suspended General Phiyega as National Commissioner of the South African Police Service with immediate effect and on full pay,” presidency spokesperson Bongani Majola said in a statement on Wednesday.

He said President Jacob Zuma considered Phiyega’s representations on why she should not be suspended.

“The suspension is to endure pending any decision that is made following upon the recommendations of the board of inquiry into allegations of misconduct, her fitness to hold office and her capacity to execute official duties efficiently.”

Zuma announced last month that a board of inquiry, chaired by Judge Cornelis Johannes Claasen, was appointed to look into allegations of misconduct against Phiyega.

The Farlam Commission’s final report was handed to Zuma on March 31, who then released it to the public on June 25.

In August, Zuma announced his intention to institute the inquiry into Phiyega.

The president had written to her asking her to provide reasons why he should not suspend her pending the inquiry. Phiyega then requested more time to respond and Zuma gave her until September 28. She met that deadline.

On Tuesday, a day before her suspension, Phiyega had to sit through a grilling in Parliament about the quality of police performance.

Questions ranged from what happens when a police officer does not comply with procedure, how do station and cluster commanders ensure proper management of police pocket books and what is the quality of policing that the ordinary person receives?

Her department presented its annual report to Parliament’s police committee on Tuesday.

The South African Police Service Annual Report for the 2014/15 financial year revealed that 48% of the reports by SAPS members on their performance while responding to dispatch call-outs could not be properly verified.

This was mostly blamed on lack of proper oversight of police pocket books by line managers.

Again on Wednesday, a few hours before the announcement of her suspension, Phiyega continued to answer gruelling questions from the committee on their failure to effectively curb violence against women. News24Along with his father and brother, 17-year-old Abdullah Hassan rushed to his uncle’s home on Sunday to find a smoking pile of rubble and mangled steel.

“We didn’t see anyone, but I heard a voice from under the home,” Hassan told Al Jazeera.

Situated on the southern outskirts of Gaza City, the Hassan family home was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, leaving dead Abdullah’s pregnant aunt, 30-year-old Noor Hassan, and her three-year-old daughter Rahaf.

Abdullah and the others dug out Yahya, Noor’s husband, and another toddler, from under the home. Both were badly injured.

After rockets fired from Gaza landed in an empty field in southern Israel before dawn on Sunday, Israel carried out two air strikes in the Strip, claiming to have hit two Hamas arms factories.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said the army “holds Hamas responsible for any act of aggression from the Gaza Strip”.

But the immense crater where the Hassan family home used to stand suggests it was hit directly by the air strike.

The deadly attack came on the heels of a wave of Palestinian protests triggered by the provocative storming of al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, by extremist Jewish groups.

Long-standing anger over harsh restrictions on Palestinians that touch almost every part of their lives, Israeli settlement expansion and impunity for Israeli soldiers and settlers who kill Palestinians, among other grievances, have boiled over into more than a week of protests and violent responses by Israeli soldiers and police.

It has quickly spread throughout the occupied West Bank and Palestinian communities in Israel.

Since October 1, four Israelis have been killed in attacks allegedly carried out by Palestinians, while at least 68 others have been injured in stabbing incidents.

The Israeli crackdown has been harsh. Gas bombs, stun grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition have been fired on protesters across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

More than 1,400 Palestinians have been injured by live ammunition or rubber-coated steel bullets, according to the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health.

The violence reached Gaza when protests broke out on the border on Friday. Since then, Israel has killed 11 Palestinians in the coastal enclave.

On Friday, the Israeli army killed seven Palestinians across Gaza as protesters moved towards the border fence. The following day, two Palestinian boys – 12-year-old Marwan Barbakh and 15-year-old Khalil Othman – were shot dead during protests in the border area of Khan Younes.

“We are in the early stages of a new cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israel. After what happened this weekend [in Gaza], I don’t imagine people here are going to sit down quietly,” Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, told Al Jazeera.

Speaking in Gaza on Friday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya declared a new Intifada, or uprising, and called for “the strengthening and increasing of the Intifada”.

“It is the only path that will lead to liberation,” Haniyeh said.

According to Abu Saada, the leader’s comments mark a changing point and answered questions about whether Gaza would be able to partake in a prolonged uprising.

Unlike when the second Intifada ended in 2004, Israel has since besieged the Strip from land, air and sea and launched three major wars on the densely-populated territory – in 2008, 2012 and 2014.

The latest war spanned 51 days last summer and left Gaza in shambles. At the height of the war, hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced.

Due to the strict Israeli and Egyptian blockade limiting the amount of construction materials and humanitarian aid that enters Gaza, more than 12,000 homes remain levelled until today.

“The Palestinian resistance in Gaza has made it clear that it is very much ready to be part of the Intifada,” said Abu Saada.

What exactly Gaza’s role in the uprising will look like, however, remains unclear, “because it’s still too early to know”, Abu Saada explained.

According to Benedetta Berti, a security fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, given the separation between Gaza and Israel and due to the Israeli-imposed siege, “the tools of political protests people in Gaza can use are limited,”

Border protests like those organised last weekend are an option, however, “Israel’s response has been extremely costly and dangerous” for demonstrators, Berti said.

Abu Sayyaf, a senior member of al-Nasser Salah al-Din Brigades, an armed group with close ties to Hamas, insists that Gaza’s fighters are ready for any potential escalation.

“Other factions should declare a third Intifada,” he told Al Jazeera. “Honestly, the 51-day war on Gaza last summer did not worry the [Israeli] occupiers as much as the operations taking place in the West Bank right now.”

“We salute our heroic brothers in the West Bank and call on them to carry out more operations,” Abu Sayyaf continued. As far as how Gaza’s armed groups will respond, he said: “No decision has been taken yet. All options remain open.”

On Sunday, hundreds of Palestinians came out to bury Noor and Rahaf Hassan. They marched in central Gaza, carrying Rahaf’s small body through the streets and waving Palestinian flags.

Speaking to Al Jazeera at the funeral, Majdiya Hassan, Rahaf’s grandmother, called on political factions to “do whatever it takes” to avenge their deaths.

“My message to the resistance: May God let them triumph,” she said.

Umm Sabri, another relative, added: “We want to tell the Israelis that our dead are martyrs. We will continue to fight. We will continue to support the resistance.”

Behind her, Noor and the child were lowered into the ground. Al Jazeera

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