Tens of thousands in Gaza mark terror group's 31st birthday

Hamas leader ‘not denying’ that West Bank terror attacks were ordered from Gaza

Ismail Haniyeh also says Palestinian men in the West Bank do not need orders to carry out attacks against Israelis; adds that he is ready to meet Abbas

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (3rd-R) waves upon his arrival at a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the terror group's founding, in Gaza City December 16, 2018. (Said Khatib/ AFP)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (3rd-R) waves upon his arrival at a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the terror group's founding, in Gaza City December 16, 2018. (Said Khatib/ AFP)

Hamas Politburo chairman Ismail Haniyeh said on Sunday he does not deny that orders to carry out recent deadly terror attacks in the West Bank came from the Gaza Strip.

Haniyeh made the remark during a speech he delivered to tens of thousands of Hamas supporters in a Gaza City square at a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the terror group’s founding.

“I will also respond to the Zionists who are saying what is happening in the West Bank is based on directives and arrangements from Gaza,” Haniyeh said in the hour-long speech. “This is an accusation we do not deny… because it is a source of pride reigning over all of us.”

IDF Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Nadav Padan said last week that Hamas was behind recent fatal shooting attacks in the West Bank.

“In the past few days, a Hamas terror group cell managed to harm us and exact from us a heavy price,” Padan said on Thursday. “We will pursue them and settle the score with this cell.”

Last Sunday, seven people were wounded by gunfire in a drive-by shooting, including a pregnant woman, outside the settlement of Ofra. The woman’s baby was delivered prematurely in an emergency operation, but died on Wednesday afternoon.

Israeli security forces and forensic experts inspect the scene of a terror shooting outside the Givat Assaf settlement outpost, northeast of the West Bank city of Ramallah, on December 13, 2018. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

On Thursday, two Israeli soldiers were killed and two others — a civilian and another soldier — were severely injured in another shooting attack near the Givat Assaf outpost.

Haniyeh, however, said Palestinian men in the West Bank do not need instructions from Gaza to carry out attacks against Israelis.

“The men of the West Bank do not need a remote control or an order,” he said.

Last Thursday, Hamas said Salih Barghouti, who is suspected by the Shin Bet security service of carrying out the terror attack near Ofra, was one of its members.

Barghouti, 29, from Kobar, a village near Ramallah, was killed Wednesday evening after he tried to attack troops while escaping arrest and was shot, the Shin Bet said.

Also on Thursday, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, appeared to take responsibility for two shooting attacks — the one near Ofra and another in October at the Barkan Industrial Zone in the northern West Bank that killed two people.

Palestinian members of al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas terror group, attend a rally marking the 31st anniversary of Hamas’ founding, in Gaza City December 16, 2018. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

“From the heroic Barkan operation to the Ofra operation, the Qassam Brigades are undertaking a new battle,” the Qassam Brigades said in a statement.

The Qassam Brigades have not made claims of responsibility regarding Thursday’s shooting near Givat Assaf.

During the rally, Haniyeh also said he is prepared to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to arrange a gathering of a larger group of Palestinians leaders to discuss the future of the Palestinian issue.

“I am ready to meet the brother Abu Mazen in Gaza, Cairo or anywhere else to discuss… organizing a big meeting of Palestinian leaders,” Haniyeh said, using Abbas’s nom de guerre.

Haniyeh last met with Abbas, who also holds the title of Fatah chairman, in October 2016 in Qatar.

Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since 2007 when the terror group ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from Gaza.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, center, shares a light moment with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh after the opening session of the Arab Summit in Riyadh, Wednesday, March 28, 2007. (AP Photo/Awad Awad, Pool)

While the two parties have agreed to a number of reconciliation agreements, they have failed to implement them.

The Hamas leader also called for and end to security cooperation between Israel and the PA.

“Stopping security coordination with the Zionist occupation is needed,” he said. “It is not permissible for the security coordination with the Zionist occupation to continue, which acts ruthlessly against our people, Judaizes our Islamic and Christian holy sites and arrests our youth.”

On a number of occasions, Abbas has expressed support for Israeli-Palestinian security coordination.

He told Israeli peace activists in a meeting in September that the Palestinian and the Israeli security forces work together “on a daily basis” and that he and his people “do anything possible so that no Israeli gets hurt,” according to Peace Now, whose executive director attended the meeting with Abbas.

Since the Second Intifada, both Israel and the PA have come down heavily on much of Hamas’s infrastructure in the West Bank.

On Friday, Palestinian Authority police cracked down on a Hamas protest in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, beating demonstrators with batons and throwing stun grenades.

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