Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday hinted at further Israeli military action against Hamas, saying Israel will not “stand by” while the Gaza-based terror group replenishes its weapons stockpiles.
Liberman’s comments came two days after the Israel Air Force carried out dozens of strikes on the Palestinian coastal enclave in response to a rocket fired at the Israeli border town of Sderot earlier in the day.
During a tour of the IDF’s Havat Hashomer education base in northern Israel, Liberman said that rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip would be conditioned on Hamas abandoning its arms.
“Hamas is building tunnels and we will not stand by idly and let it arm itself,” Liberman said, referring to tunnels dug by Hamas under the Israeli-Gazan border and used to launch attacks inside Israel.
The minister claimed that 70 percent of the tax money that Hamas collects is funneled toward digging tunnels, purchasing weapons, and rebuilding its fighting capabilities, much of which was devastated by the 2014 war with Israel.
“They don’t want to take care of the residents, only rockets and tunnels,” he said. “My formula for the Gaza Strip is well known. What I demand is rehabilitation for demilitarization.”
He did not, however, elaborate on what sort of rehabilitation he was referring to and how he would facilitate it if conditions permitted.
On Monday, an Israeli military source said Israel struck Gaza some 50 times in two hours by air and tank the night before. Palestinian security sources in Gaza said several targets in the northern Strip were struck by Israeli fire, and that a reservoir in Beit Hanoun was damaged in the strikes. Israel also hit a base belonging to Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in nearby Beit Lahiya, witnesses said. Palestinian health and security sources said two to five people were lightly wounded by Israel’s retaliatory fire.
It was the second Israeli bombardment on Sunday. Immediately following the rocket attack from the Gaza Strip on Sunday afternoon, Israeli aircraft and tanks also targeted Hamas installations in the northern Gaza Strip.
After the late-night airstrikes, the Islamist Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip blamed Israel for escalating tensions in the Palestinian enclave.
However, both sides indicated that they are not interested in further exchanges that might lead to an increase in fighting.
The airstrikes mark the most intense Israeli reprisal attack on Gaza since the sides fought a bloody war in 2014, and could signal a shift in policy by newly installed Liberman.
The rocket fire was claimed by a small Islamic State-linked Salafist group, but Israel says it holds Hamas — the Strip’s de facto rulers — responsible for any attacks emanating from Gaza and routinely responds to such launches with strikes against the terror organization.
The rocket launch on Sderot struck inside the town but caused no casualties or damage. It landed between two homes on Hanehalim Street, near Sapir College and the city’s train station. Locals said it was “a miracle” that nobody was injured.