Hamas’s chief in Gaza said Saturday that if there is a war, Israel will need to evacuate its civilians from Tel Aviv as well as the border communities, a day after the terror group’s leader said talks to achieve a truce were advancing.
“If the Gaza Strip is dragged into war, Israel will suffer. It will not only have to evacuate the communities around the Strip, but also [the cities of] Ashdod and Ashkelon and even Tel Aviv,” Yahya Sinwar told a group of Gaza officials.
“Our fingers are on the trigger and they will remain pressed against it in order to protect our people. We will be the sword and shield,” Sinwar said, according to the Hamas-linked Al-Aqsa TV.
Sinwar also noted the role played by Egyptian mediators in negotiations to broker understandings between Israel and the terror group, saying the country “had a significant role in easing the siege imposed on Gaza, and we are grateful.”
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. An Islamist terror group, Hamas seeks to destroy Israel.
“Together with our people, we have succeeded in forcing the entire world to place the issue of the blockade imposed on Gaza on the agenda, and seek solutions,” Sinwar added.
Sinwar’s speech came a day after over 10,000 Palestinians participated in weekly protests and riots along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel Friday afternoon.
Despite reported calls by organizers and armed factions to avoid violence, clashes were reported. Some protesters hurled rocks and explosive devices at Israeli troops, who responded with less-lethal measures. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 70 people had been injured, one of them critically.
By nightfall the protesters had disbanded. A Palestinian who crossed the border was detained by Israeli troops.
Last week’s rallies, on the one-year anniversary of the start of the marches, drew over 40,000 protesters.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh earlier Friday said talks were “advancing in a positive direction.”
On Thursday, a top March of Return organizer told the Kan public broadcaster that protesters have been instructed not to launch incendiary balloons toward Israel during the rallies, and that the nighttime “confusion units” have been called off.
According to the organizer, who was not identified, Gaza factions had committed to a nonviolent protest, and Israel had agreed not to use live fire to disperse the border demonstrations.
There was no confirmation from Israeli officials.
Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar have recently worked to broker ceasefire understandings between Israel and Hamas, which, if finalized, would likely see an end to violence emanating from the Strip in exchange for the Jewish state easing some of its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.
Israeli officials have long held that the Jewish state’s limitations on movement aim to prevent Hamas and other terror groups from transferring weapons into Gaza.
There appeared to be a breakthrough in the ceasefire efforts last weekend, when Palestinians in Gaza maintained relative calm along the border during large protests on Saturday.
Israel, in turn, reopened its two crossings with Gaza on Sunday, having closed them last week after a rocket attack struck a home in central Israel and injured seven people, and significantly expanded the permitted fishing area on Monday around the coastal enclave.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians took part in the rallies at the Gaza border last Saturday, with some rioters throwing grenades and explosives toward the security fence as well as lobbing rocks at troops and burning tires. The enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry said three 17-year-old Palestinians were killed during the protests last Saturday, while at least 300 were injured.
Agencies contributed to this report.