August 26, 2021 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1597

Munitions Cache Explosion At Gaza Market Sparks Renewed Internal Criticism Of Hamas' 'Contempt For Human Life'

August 26, 2021 | By Y. Yehoshua and S. Schneidmann*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1597

Although the Hamas security apparatuses keep a tight lid on protests against the Gaza authorities, including by arresting citizens who voice criticism on social media, these media continue to serve as a platform for criticism by Gazans against Hamas.[1]

Two catastrophes that occurred in Gaza markets in the last 18 months evoked especially intense criticism from Gazans on social media, who drew a connection between them and blamed them on the terror organizations in Gaza and in particular on Hamas. One was the July 22, 2021  explosion of a munitions warehouse belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Al-Zawiya market, which killed one person and wounded 10. The other incident is a massive fire that broke out in the Al-Nusairat refugee camp in March 2020, which killed 25 people and which, according to reports on social media, was caused by Hamas activists throwing a firebomb at a bakery that refused to pay them protection.

Gazan social media users noted that the Hamas authorities had evidently failed to learn from the March 2020 catastrophe, and that both incidents show that the "resistance" movements – Hamas and the PIJ – place little value on the lives of Gaza's residents. They predicted that the investigation of the Al-Zawiya explosion, just like the investigation of the Al-Nusairat fire, will yield no findings, and that Hamas will not hold the culprits to account.

This report presents some of the responses to these incidents by Gazan social media users who blamed them on the organizations controlling the Gaza Strip.

July 2021: Explosion Of PIJ Munitions Cache In Al-Zawiya Market Leaves One Dead, 10 Wounded

The July 22, 2021 blast, in a multi-story building in Al-Zawiya market, collapsed part of the building and caused considerable damage to the aera around it. After extinguishing the fire, the Hamas security apparatuses pulled one body and 10 wounded out of the rubble.[2] 'Issam Al-Da'lis, Hamas' head of government administration in Gaza, ordered an investigation into the cause of the explosion.[3]

An obituary published by the PIJ for the man killed in the blast – a PIJ operative named 'Ata Sakallah – strongly implies that it is responsible for the explosion. The organization expressed sorrow for the damage caused to homes and businesses, stressing that it would "determine its responsibility and follow the details of the incident with all the relevant authorities."[4] The organization also announced that its secretary-general, Ziyad Al-Nakhalah, had instructed PIJ activists to clean the area and clear the rubble.[5] Several days later, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Gaza-based NGO, reported that the explosion had apparently occurred in munitions warehouse of "one of the factions," hinting at the PIJ, and stressed that manufacturing and storing munitions in civilian areas is a violation of international law.[6]  

Hamas, for its part, did not criticize the PIJ, but in fact published an obituary for the killed PIJ activist 'Ata Sakallah. and the head of its political bureau, Isma'il Haniya, called Sakallah's family to express his condolences. In a statement it issued on the day of the explosion, Hamas called on all the relevant authorities and charities in Gaza to help the affected families, and promised to discover the cause of the explosion and prevent similar incidents in the future.[7]

Aftermath of the Al-Zawiya market blast (Source:, July 22, 2021)

March 2020:  Massive Fire, Apparently Caused By Firebomb Thrown By Hamas Operatives Extorting Protection, Kills 25

The Al-Zawiya explosion reminded Gazans of another catastrophe one year earlier, on March 5, 2020: a massive blaze in the market of the Al-Nusairat refugee camp in Gaza, which killed 25 people and caused immense damage to property. The fire apparently started with the explosion of a gas tank next to the Al-Bana Bakery. An investigative committee established by Hamas placed the blame on the bakery itself and on the local authorities. It  recommended to dismiss the Al-Nusairat mayor and municipal council, and to permanently close down the bakery and prosecute its owners.[8]

Users on social media, however, claimed that Hamas itself was responsible for the fire, since members of its military wing, the 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades, had lobbed a firebomb at the bakery after its owner refused to pay them protection money. Gazan journalist 'Abdullah Abu Sharkh presented the following testimony by a member of the Al-Bana family, which owns the bakery: "He [this family member] told the investigative committee that [Hamas's] Internal Security [Force] and the Al-Qassam Brigades used to pressure his family daily to supply them with free bread, under the pretext of [soliciting] 'aid for the resistance.' When the bakery owners refused, the Internal Security Force arrested several of his uncles more than once, to force them to hand over large quantities of bread. When the family refused, they threatened to bomb the bakery and issue a decree banning us from working there. On the day of the  explosion, early in the morning, several Al-Qassam and Internal Security [operatives] known to our family showed up, and told us to close the bakery immediately. When we refused, they told us they would burn it down… When we [still] refused, one of them threw a firebomb at the bakery, causing a nearby gas tank to explode, and this is what caused the fire [that burned down] the entire Al-Nusairat market. That is why Al-Qassam Brigades [operatives] were present on site from the very first moment of the explosion. They did not arrive to evacuate the injured and help put out the fire, as was claimed. They are liars. They themselves caused the fire and the death of women and children in the market, because they wanted us to pay them protection and we refused…"[9]

Part of 'Abdallah Abu Sharakh's post (Source:, March 14, 2020)

Presumably in response to his posts about this incident, Hamas arrested Abu Sharakh and held him for a month.[10]  Gazan Facebook user Abood Ayyad posted a message calling for his release, adding that the Hamas government ascribes little value to Gazan's lives. He wrote: "After the arrest of 'Abdallah Abu Sharakh, I understood how cheaply the [Hamas] government holds our lives.  I hope his friends initiate a protest. [If they do] we will support them, instead of [posting] useless messages on Facebook."[11]

Abood Ayyad's post

The aftermath of the fire in the Al-Nusairat refugee camp (Source:, March 29, 2020)

Former Hamas Official: In Gaza "There Is No State, No Law and No Citizen"

On the day of the Al-Zawiya explosion, Gazan social media users compared this incident to the Al-Nusairat fire, and lamented that no lessons had been learned from the earlier incident. Some of the posts were vague and general. User Muhammad bin Bassam wrote: "The continued negligence and lack of oversight by the civil [sector] means that more catastrophes like the Al-Nusairat fire and the Al-Zawiya market explosion [will occur]."[12] User 'Amru Al-Saka wrote: "Allah willing, we will draw conclusions from the  Al-Nusairat fire and the Al-Zawiya explosion and act to protect ourselves against future tragedies."[13] Another user, Ahmed 'Ayyash, commented: 'In the Al-Nusairat fire and the Al-Zawiya explosion we again saw shops destroyed and people killed and wounded. Who is responsible?"[14]

Other users were more blunt and explicit, accusing Hamas of criminal negligence and disregard for human life, and questioning the seriousness of its investigations of the incidents. Conspicuous among the critics was writer Khadar Mahjaz, a former Hamas member who has been arrested several times and even fired from his post at the University of Gaza for his harsh criticism of the Hamas authorities.[15] In a post following the Al-Zawiya explosion, he wrote: "Those responsible for the Al-Nusairat fire were never held accountable, so the Al-Zawiya market exploded [as well]. That's what happened, plain and simple. [Now] you should wait for the next fire."[16]

Khadar Mahjaz's post

In another post several days later, Mahjaz continued his criticism of Hamas and the PIJ, writing: "It looks like they – the resistance fighters – are convinced that wherever they are present, there is no state, no law and no citizen. There is only a boy with a gun."[17]

Gazan Social Media Users: Life Is Cheap In Gaza; Whoever Keeps Explosives In Crowded Areas Is A Criminal

Criticism was also expressed by many other Gazans on social media. User Jamal Al-Ayoubi wrote: "From the Al-Nusairat fire to the Al-Zawiya explosion – what false excuses will they bring up [now]?..."[18] Muhammad Al-Ara wrote: "A greedy shopkeeper + a negligent official + an irresponsible citizen + a corrupt protection [racket] = the Al-Nusairat catastrophe, the Al-Zawiya [catastrophe], etc."[19] Jamal Abu Hamda commented: "Whoever causes people to be harmed by keeping flammable or explosive chemicals in crowded areas is a criminal. Imagine [what would have happened] if the explosion had taken place on a regular weekday, when the market was full, [and not on a holiday]… The Al-Nusairat fire was not so long ago, either. The memory of it is still painful. Yet we still don't learn from our mistakes."[20] Khaled Suleiman Al-Wakhiri wrote: "The investigation of the Al-Zawiya market explosion will [end] just like the investigation of the Al-Nusairat fire…"[21] Talal Al-Rahman remarked: "The cheapest thing in my homeland is human life. What happened at the Al-Zawiya market and the Al-Nusairat market is the best proof [of this]."[22]

Dr. Salma Mas'oud went so far as to compare the Al-Zawiya explosion to the August 4, 2020 Beirut port blast, in which hundreds were killed and thousands wounded.[23] She wrote: "The explosion in Gaza's Al-Zawiya market is similar to what happened in the Al-Nusairat refugee camp 18 months ago and [also] to what happened in Beirut last summer. They all stem from contempt for human life and for its sanctity. I wish that the people who disparage [human life] in our country were held accountable, instead of just saying, 'Allah decides and does has He pleases'… Thank God that the explosion happened at an early hour and on a holiday, for the Al-Zawiya market, busy and crowded all day long, could have been [the site of] a great catastrophe and great carnage…"[24]

Salma Mas'oud's post

* Y. Yehoshua is Vice President for Research and Director of MEMRI Israel; S. Schneidmann is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] On the suppression of freedom of speech by Hamas' security apparatuses, see Special Dispatch No. 7964 - Hamas Members, Supporters Criticize Its Suppression Of Economic And Social Protests In Gaza – March 26, 2019.

[2], July 22, 2021.

[3], July 22, 2021. The findings of the investigation are yet to be published.

[4], July 22, 2021.

[5], July 25, 26, 2021.

[6], July 25, 2021. The Palestinian factions in Gaza condemned the NGO's report, on the grounds that it will encourage "incitement" against the Palestinian resistance by the "media that supports the occupation" (, July 25, 2021).

[7], July 22, 24, 2021.

[8], March 21, 2020.

[9], March 14, 2020.

[10], April 9, 2020. Abu Sharkh deleted the posts but one of them was published by the Amad news website, which is identified with the camp of Muhammad Dahlan (, March 14, 2020). 

[11] Facebook,com/Abood.ayyad.58118, April 4, 2020.

[12], July 22, 2021.

[13], July 22, 2021.

[14], July 22, 2021.

[15] For more criticism by Khadar Mahjaz, of Hamas' government in Gaza, see MEMRI  Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1349 - After A Decade Of Hamas Rule In Gaza, Movement Officials And Former Officials Call For Self-Scrutiny Within It – October 4, 2017.

[16], July 23, 2021.

[17], July 25, 2021.

[18], July 22, 2021.

[19], July 22, 2021.

[20], July 22, 2021.

[21], July 22, 2021.

[22], July 22, 2021.

[23] On this explosion, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8910 - Lebanese Figures Demand That Hizbullah Arsenals Across The Country Be Dismantled – August 26, 2020.

[24],, July 22, 2021.

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