Hamas terror group leader Ismail Haniyeh vowed on Sunday that armed factions in the Gaza Strip would retaliate for any further Israeli airstrikes in the coastal enclave.
His comments came hours after a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect, following one of the most severe exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.
“When the enemy ceases its aggression, the resistance will halt [its fire],” Haniyeh said at a funeral in Gaza City for two Palestinian teenagers the Hamas-run health ministry had said were killed in an Israeli strike. “When the enemy ceases its arrogance, the resistance will think about restoring calm in the field.”
“As for getting the resistance to restore calm on the front while [Israel’s] planes are killing [people]… it is unacceptable for this enemy to impose [new] rules of engagement,” Haniyeh said.
Palestinians launched some 200 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel throughout Saturday and Israel responded with strikes against dozens of targets in Gaza. Three Israeli civilians were moderately injured by Palestinian rockets. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, in addition to the two teenagers — who were killed in a building that Israel said was situated over a Hamas tunnel network — 25 others were injured by shrapnel.
Haniyeh vowed “greater” protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip if the Israeli blockade of the territory is not lifted.
“Either the siege is lifted or you all will face more intense, greater and stronger marches,” he said.
Haniyeh also mentioned a meeting he had held earlier in the day with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov, though he did not discuss the content of the discussion.
A diplomatic source told The Times of Israel on Saturday that Mladenov was working with “all concerned parties” in an effort to mediate an agreement to restore calm between Israel and armed groups in Gaza.
Late Saturday night, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum announced that an agreement “to restore calm” was reached between Israel and armed groups in Gaza. As of Sunday afternoon, the agreement appeared to be holding.
According to Barhoum, Egypt also played a role in brokering the agreement.
Since March 30, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas, which seeks to destroy the Jewish state, of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.
Palestinians claim the protests are to call for the return of refugees and their descendants to their former and ancestral homes in Israel and the lifting of Israeli restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.
The Israeli army reportedly notified Hamas in recent days that if the incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip don’t cease, Israel would respond with major military action.
Both Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip, saying the restrictions are need to prevent terror groups importing weapons and equipment for their military campaigns. Goods arrive at Israeli ports and are then bought to Gaza on hundreds of trucks a day. Last week, Israel announced it was shutting down the Kerem Shalom border crossing — the Strip’s main crossing for commercial goods — in response to the stream of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons. Humanitarian and essential supplies continue to enter Gaza.
Domestic pressure on the military to halt the burning flying objects has intensified, leading to Israel carrying out warning airstrikes and increasing the possibility that violence could escalate.