An Egyptian security delegation that visited the Gaza Strip on Monday conveyed a message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Hamas terror group in which he demanded “a return to calm,” the Lebanese pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper reported, citing unnamed sources in Palestinian terror groups.
Netanyahu’s message, which the Egyptian delegation received from Israeli security officials in Tel Aviv on Sunday, included a threat that Israel would “deliver a major blow to Hamas with American and international cover” if calm does not resume, the sources told the daily.
The past two weeks have seen a marked uptick in the launch of projectiles and balloon-borne explosive devices from Gaza into Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces says it has responded to the projectiles and incendiary balloons with airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza.
Hamas officials told the Egyptian delegation in response to Netanyahu’s message that it “does not seek an escalation,” but “the economic pressure that Gazans are experiencing and the failure to implement calming understandings will create greater pressure on the border region,” the sources said.
“There will be no free calm as long as there is procrastination, delay and tightening [of restrictions],” the sources also quoted the Hamas officials as saying.
Since the second half of 2018, Egypt, alongside the United Nations and Qatar, has played a key role in brokering informal ceasefire understandings between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Israel.
The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the Strip and the Jewish state.
The Hamas officials also told the Egyptians that “the occupation doing anything stupid or assassinating resistance leaders would unleash a major war that would significantly impact the occupation’s state and leaders,” the sources added.
In recent years, Israel has seldom employed targeted killings against Palestinians in Gaza, though it did eliminate a senior Islamic Jihad terror group commander in November.
The sources also suggested that Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar did not attend the meeting with the Egyptian delegation out of fear of a possible Israeli attempt on his life.
They said: “No one can guarantee that Israel will not carry out treachery.”
Sinwar has made few public appearances in recent months even though he is the highest ranking Hamas political leader currently in Gaza.
The Egyptian delegation’s visit to Gaza on Sunday was its first to the coastal enclave since September.
Tensions recently spiked between Hamas and Egypt after the terror group’s chief, Ismail Haniyeh, visited Iran in January and participated in the funeral of slain general Qassem Soleimani, many Arabic-language news outlets have reported.
Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said in late January that Egypt rebuked Hamas over Haniyeh’s visit to Iran.
“Our brothers in Egypt scolded us for visiting Iran, but [Hamas] has its own independent stance,” Hayya told reporters in Gaza on January 21.
Egypt is allied with a number of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Iran as a regional foe.