Israeli leaders vow Hamas will ‘pay heavy price’ if Gaza violence continues

Prime minister and defense minister say hostile actions from Gaza will not be tolerated, after criticism for agreeing to ceasefire following weekend flareup

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 15, 2018 (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 15, 2018 (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Israeli leaders on Sunday warned Hamas against continuing hostilities, including launching incendiary kites, balloons and drones, after a weekend that saw some of the heaviest fighting along the Gaza border in years.

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas had been hit “substantially and hard,” and vowed that Palestinian terrorists would suffer the consequences of attacking Israel.

“Our policy is clear: Whoever hurts us, we will hit them with great strength. This is what we did yesterday. The IDF dealt Hamas the harshest blow since Operation Protective Edge. I hope that they got the message; if not, they will get it later,” the prime minister stated.

“I heard it being said that Israel has agreed to a ceasefire that would allow the continuation of terrorism by incendiary kites and balloons. This is incorrect. We are not prepared to accept any attacks against us and we will respond appropriately.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also warned that Hamas would “pay a heavy price” if it did not cease hostilities.

“We have been through a stormy weekend. With regards to the rest of the week, it is important to emphasize that we have no intention of tolerating this — not rockets, not kites, not drones — nothing,” Liberman said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Palestinian terrorists fired some 200 rockets and missiles at Israeli communities close to the Gaza Strip over the weekend. On Saturday the IDF attacked more than 40 targets in the Gaza Strip in the most extensive daytime assault since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

“Hamas suffered a severe blow. The offensive tunnels were destroyed, the production and storage sites of the munitions were destroyed. Ninety percent of the rockets fell in open areas or the Iron Dome systems managed to intercept them,” Liberman said.

“However, those rockets that did fall in Israel, those sirens, those people running to bomb shelters. This is an unacceptable reality and we will not tolerate it,” vowed the defense minister. “I hope that Hamas has drawn conclusions, and if they do not reach a conclusion, they will need to pay a heavy price.”

Palestinian boys walk through the wreckage of a building that was damaged by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on July 15, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

Over the last few months, Palestinians in Gaza have flown thousands of kites and balloons attached to incendiary devices that have set off hundreds of fires in farm lands and nature reserves along the border with Gaza, destroying tens of thousands of acres.

Domestic pressure on the military to halt the burning flying objects has intensified, leading to Israel carrying out warning airstrikes and increasing the possibility that violence could escalate.

On Saturday night, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist groups announced that they had agreed to a ceasefire with Israel, following talks with Egypt and other international bodies.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett attacked Liberman’s decision to halt the IDF’s bombardment of targets in Gaza, saying after over three months of incendiary kites flown into Israel and some 200 rockets and missiles fired into Israel over the weekend alone, any ceasefire should be dictated on Israel’s terms.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting of his Jewish Home party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“At a time convenient to them, Hamas dictates that it is now a ceasefire. So let it be clear, a ceasefire without stopping terror is not [Israeli] deterrence, it is capitulation,” charged Bennett.

Bennett said he and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked would oppose any ceasefire which allows Hamas to rearm and continue to fly incendiary devices into communities in southern Israel.

Intelligence Minister Israel Katz appeared to concur with Bennett, saying that Liberman must formulate a clear policy for “toppling Hamas and eliminating terror.”

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