Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Friday dismissed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s suggestion of Israel’s readiness for war in response to violence emanating from the Palestinian enclave, as both sides readied for another day of clashes along the border.
“These are empty words against the Palestinian will to break the blockade on Gaza. The March of Return will intensify,” Channel 10 quoted the terror group as saying.
“Our people pay no attention to this broken record of the Zionist leadership,” Hamas added, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Earlier, Liberman indicated that Israel had been holding back on a harsh response to the near-nightly riots on the border in order to prevent an all-out conflict during the period of the Jewish High Holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah on September 9 and ending with Simchat Torah on October 1.
“We’ve been through the High Holidays exactly as we planned, without a flare-up and by exacting a heavy price on the rioters along the Gaza border,” Liberman wrote on Twitter, referring to the people killed and injured by IDF troops during the clashes.
“The holidays are over, and I say to the heads of Hamas: ‘Take that into account,’” the defense minister wrote.
Later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned Israel would respond firmly to any violence coming from Gaza.
“The prime minister clarified Israel will act decisively toward Gaza over any action against the residents of the south or Israel,” his office said in a statement after a meeting with the German foreign minister.
On Friday morning, IDF snipers, tanks and ground troops prepared to take positions along the security fence ahead of violent protests and clashes expected to take place later in the afternoon.
The night before, Liberman ordered the Israel Defense Forces to go on high alert on the border.
The defense minister instructed the IDF to maintain “maximum preparedness for any scenario,” his office said.
On Thursday, the army announced it had decided to deploy additional troops to the Gaza area. The IDF also positioned a number of Iron Dome air defense batteries in the south as part of its preparations.
Border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have increased dramatically in recent weeks. They began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as Hamas entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.
As these talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.
The nightly riots, in which Palestinians regularly throw grenades and improvised explosives at IDF troops, as well as ongoing airborne arson attacks using balloons carrying incendiary devices, have threatened to spark a new large-scale clash in Gaza.
Israeli military officials have warned repeatedly that the situation in Gaza is more likely to escalate than to calm down. However, recently the army noted that Hamas appears to actively be readying itself for a limited conflict with Israel.
In an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily published Thursday, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said that while he didn’t want any more wars, an “eruption is inevitable” given the current humanitarian conditions in the Strip — conditions that Israel and others in the world blame explicitly on Hamas’s poor governance of the coastal enclave.
Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has worsened steadily, and Hamas’s reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down.
The clashes along the border, which Israel maintains are being directed by Hamas, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, and attempts to breach the border fence.
Gazans have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.
Dozens of Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire in the past week in the wake of heavy clashes on Friday in which seven Gazans, including two teenagers, were killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. The army released footage of the violent demonstrations, which it said were the worst in two months, depicting attempts to breach and sabotage the security fence. The IDF said more than 100 improvised bombs and grenades were hurled at troops during the day’s clashes that it said drew some 20,000 Palestinians.
At least 140 Palestinians were killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.
Agencies contributed to this report.