Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday made his first public appearance since Israel destroyed his office in a retaliatory airstrike this week, claiming victory over “Zionist arrogance.”
Haniyeh visited the rubble of his Gaza City office, coming out of hiding after a two-day flare-up of violence, which ended with an unofficial Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terror group, which rules the Gaza Strip.
The fighting broke out after a rocket fired from Gaza struck a home in central Israel and wounded seven people. Israel responded with dozens of airstrikes in the Strip, while Palestinian terrorists fired dozens of rockets at communities across the border.
“The resistance has had the last word, and Israel got the message,” Haniyeh said. “I am grateful to all parties who helped stop the Zionist arrogance in the Gaza Strip.”
In a statement, an Israeli diplomatic official quipped that Haniyeh “had better find a new office before he brags.”
The Hamas leader also urged Gazans to participate in mass protests along the Israel-Gaza frontier on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of a movement officially aimed at ending the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and resettling Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Israel proper.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi ordered troops along the Gaza border to remain on alert for “various scenarios in the region,” the army said.
Earlier in the day, Kohavi visited the Gaza Division and met with its commander, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, along with Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi.
The IDF has sent reinforcements to the border in advance of expected clashes this weekend and has allowed the media to publicize the troop buildup.
There are fears that violence will ramp up this weekend, with Hamas hoping to draw hundreds of thousands of rioters to the fence to mark a year of so-called March of Return protests, which began March 30, 2018.
Israel says the demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas in order to provide cover for the organization’s nefarious activities along the security fence, including infiltration attempts, the planting of explosives and attacks on Israeli soldiers.
Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the “return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.
The launch of incendiary and explosive devices into Israel tied to kites and helium-filled balloons became a common tactic in violent protests along the Gaza border over the past year, burning thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves, and killing livestock and other animals.