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Gantz threatens Gaza if rockets continue, vows Temple Mount status quo protected

Defense minister says benefits for Palestinians could be rolled back if Hamas harms stability; Gaza terror groups holding ‘urgent’ meeting after overnight airstrikes on Strip

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, tours a Border Police base in the West Bank, with the commander of the Border Police, Amir Cohen, right, on April 19, 2022. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, center, tours a Border Police base in the West Bank, with the commander of the Border Police, Amir Cohen, right, on April 19, 2022. (Elad Malka/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday that steps Israel has taken to boost its economy are being threatened by terror groups ramping up incitement and launching rockets attacks.

There have been violent clashes between Palestinians and police in recent days at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which sits atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City. Israel has accused terror groups of inciting the clashes over what it says are false claims that the long-standing policy of not allowing Jews to pray in the area has been changed.

“As I have also told leaders from countries in the region, we are maintaining the status quo on the Temple Mount, and we will not allow terrorists or provocateurs to harm the holy places,” Gantz said during a tour of a Border Police base in the West Bank.

Many Jews head to the Western Wall and the Old City during the current weeklong Passover holiday. Non-Muslims can only visit the Temple Mount during certain hours and are officially barred from praying at the site, which is considered the holiest in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam.

However, recent reports have shown that police sometimes turn a blind eye to such prayers taking place.

In a statement released by his office, Gantz mentioned a rocket attack from Gaza on southern Israel on Monday evening. “Yesterday, the Israel Defense Forces struck Gaza following [rocket] fire into Israeli territory, for which Hamas leaders are responsible,” he said.

Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, on Friday, April 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

“The IDF is ready with a wide range of means and targets, to ensure that peace and stability will continue,” Gantz warned.

“If the incitement and [rocket] fire continue, the terror organizations will be severely harmed, as will the residents of Gaza, who are currently benefiting from the moves we have taken to develop the economy,” Gantz added.

Israel recently okayed increasing the number of Palestinians who can enter Israel for work to the highest quota since a blockade was imposed on the coastal enclave more than 15 years ago.

“These are moves we are planning to expand if stability is maintained, or we can roll them back, if the leaders of Hamas choose to hurt them,” Gantz added.

On Monday, before the rocket attack, the secretary-general of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group dismissed apparent threats to end such measures.

“The enemy’s threats to stop facilitations for Gaza cannot make us remain silent about what is happening in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank,” Ziad Nakhala said in a brief statement.

Flames and smoke rise during Israeli airstrikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, April 19, 2022. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Gantz’s comments came as various Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip were set to hold an emergency meeting, according to the Safa news agency, which is close to the Hamas terror group.

Citing an unnamed source, the agency said the “urgent” meeting was to be held at the office of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. The report said the source refused to disclose the reasons for the meeting, but it came amid the heightened tensions in Jerusalem, and following airstrikes in the coastal enclave over the rocket attack.

Later, sources told Al Jazeera that the various factions agreed to raise their level of alert for the next two days.

The Temple Mount is the emotional epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tensions there can easily snowball into wider conflagrations. Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups have repeatedly invoked the flashpoint holy site as a red line. Police actions to quell riots there last year helped trigger the 11-day war in Gaza last May.

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