The Hamas leadership has reportedly conveyed to Israel it is not interested in further escalating tensions in the Gaza Strip, but warned it will not accept any additional punitive measures against the Palestinian territory which it claims are designed to boost the popularity of Israeli political parties ahead of elections.
Unidentified Israeli sources quoted by the Saudi-owned daily Asharq al-Awsat said Hamas officials on Tuesday spoke to a visiting delegation of Egyptian intelligence officials, who then passed the message on to Jerusalem. The terror group also demanded that Israel abide by the terms of the informal truce agreement struck between the sides late last year.
“We are not willing to accept suffering and hunger in Gaza because of electoral considerations in Israel,” the report quoted Hamas officials as saying.
On Monday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that in November Israel and Hamas reached understandings whereby Israel would extend Gaza’s fishing zone, increase the territory’s electricity supply and allow Qatari cash into Gaza for its public servants in exchange for calm on the border. But, he claimed, Israel breached the deal by staging an undercover raid in Gaza, which he said undermined understandings on broader issues “as if they never existed.”
The group’s reported willingness to deescalate tensions comes amid an uptick in violence in and around the Gaza Strip in recent days, with nightly riots, border protests and daily attacks by Palestinians launching balloon-borne explosive devices into southern Israel. The IDF has typically responded with tank fire and airstrikes on Hamas positions in the Strip, mostly on the border but in some cases deeper inside the coastal enclave.
On Wednesday, three explosive devices attached to bunches of balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip and detonated above communities in the Eshkol region. Later, at least one mortar shell was fired at southern Israel from Gaza, triggering sir defenses and rocket sirens in southern communities.
In response, the IDF said fighter jets struck several Hamas military targets in southern Gaza. It was Israel’s fifth retaliatory airstrike against the terror group in the past three days.
The strike came as Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry announced that a 15-year-old boy had succumbed to wounds sustained during clashes with Israeli forces at the border fence. Health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said Saif al-Deen Abu Zeid, 15, died “due to wounds sustained east of Gaza late Wednesday night.
An IDF spokeswoman did not comment on the specific incident but said hundreds of Palestinian “rioters” had hurled rocks and explosive devices at troops along the border during the nightly demonstration, with soldiers responding according to “standard operating procedures.”
In the nightly demonstrations, led by so-called “confusion units,” participants generally set off loud explosives, burn tires and throw rocks at Israeli troops on the other side of the security fence. The Israeli soldiers typically respond with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire.
Egypt has launched a new round of mediation between Israel and Hamas in a bid to secure a lasting ceasefire deal.
According to Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, Cairo officials have warned Hamas officials that “creating tensions on the border by launching incendiary balloons will bring the IDF to launch a broad military confrontation in the Strip.”
Asharq al-Awsat reported Thursday that Egyptian mediators are working hard to implement some kind of truce before March 30, the one-year anniversary of the border protests, when Cairo officials have warned of a major flareup in violence.