Officials in the US and Israel urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to disarm terrorists in the Gaza Strip Wednesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief spokesman characterizing Abbas’s condemnation of rocket fire on Wednesday morning as “empty rhetoric.”
The statements came hours after a rocket shot out of Gaza struck a major road in southern Israel, causing damage, but no injuries.
Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mark Regev asked why Abbas was letting the rocket fire continue, despite bringing Gaza’s Hamas rulers into the Palestinian Authority as part of a unity deal last week.
“President Abbas claims that the new Palestinian government honors all previous commitments. So why has he not disarmed the terrorist organizations in Gaza as he is obligated to do?” Regev said. “Without such action his ‘condemnation’ of today’s rocket attack on Israel is nothing but empty rhetoric.”
At the same time, US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said Wednesday Abbas must do his utmost to deter rocket fire against Israel.
Abbas’s office issued a statement panning the rocket fire on the Eshkol Regional Council Wednesday morning. The attack marked the second time this week that alarm sirens have sounded in the south near the Gaza Strip.
Following the formation of the Palestinian unity government, Israel announced it would hold Ramallah responsible for any rocket fire out of Gaza, a policy shift after seven years of internecine Palestinian feuding.
Last Thursday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called for Abbas to disarm Hamas and take control of the Gaza Strip after creating a unity government with Hamas approval.
If Abbas fails to do so, it will be clear that the reconciliation is a farce meant to fool the world, Ya’alon said at a meeting with foreign military attachés in Israel, according to Israel Radio.
Abbas’s Fatah party came to a reconciliation agreement with hard-line rival Hamas in April, leading to the formation of a national unity government last week. Abbas has said the new government recognizes Israel, accepts past agreements with Israel and renounces terrorism. Hamas spokesmen have said the group’s position on Israel, which it seeks to destroy, has not changed.
Despite Jerusalem urging the international community to boycott the new government, the US and Europe both said they would work with the new administration, a technocratic cabinet meant to steer the PA toward elections within six months.
On the day of the swearing-in of the new Palestinian entity, Hamas touted its military strength. “I am not concerned about the resistance; it is in good condition. Today there is an army, in the form of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — it is advanced and the resistance is advanced,” outgoing Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said.
Lazar Berman and Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.