'In the end we must remember -- this is in Israel's hands'

Hamas official signals that Israeli boosting of Gaza economy could curb protests

Senior member of terror group demands Israel authorize exports from Strip, expand fishing zone and trade freedoms

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Hamas terrorists take part in a military maneuver in Gaza City, on March 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Palestinian Hamas terrorists take part in a military maneuver in Gaza City, on March 25, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A senior official in the Hamas terrorist group on Sunday demanded that Israel ease some of its economic restrictions on the Gaza Strip and suggested that steps that “immediately improve the economic situation” in the Palestinian enclave would curtail a wave of violent protests on the Israel-Gaza border.

The official said the weekly demonstrations near the border will continue and lead to an escalation of hostilities, but that the atmosphere can “change” if Israel takes immediate action to improve the humanitarian situation in the Strip.

“Israel can take many such steps,” the senior Hamas member told The Times of Israel.

He said Israel could authorize large-scale exports from Gaza, increase the number of tradespeople allowed to travel from the Strip to Israel and the West Bank, and expand the maritime fishing zone.

“All of those were permitted in the past and were slowly cut back,” the Hamas official said. “Such steps won’t strengthen Hamas’s military power if that is what concerns you.”

Some 20,000 Gazans participated in Friday’s second successive Hamas-backed “March of Return” at the Gaza border. The army said protesters burned tires and threw bombs, Molotov cocktails, and rocks at Israeli soldiers. Several attempts were made to breach the border fence. Soldiers responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and in some cases live fire. Palestinians said nine Gazans were killed and over 1,000 wounded in the clashes.

Palestinian journalists carry a portrait of journalist Yasser Murtaja, during his funeral in Gaza City on April 7, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Hamas official warned Israel that “you can be sure that we know how to take care of our military capabilities even without these steps. But they will provide relief to the civilian population of Gaza and improve their condition.”

Friday’s demonstration was the second of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said would be several weeks of “March of Return” protests, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the “liberation of Palestine.”

The senior official sounded skeptical when asked about Egyptian efforts to bring about a change in Israel’s relationship with Gaza. He also doubted Egypt’s capability to reach a reconciliation deal between Hamas and its rival Palestinian faction, Fatah, which rules the West Bank. He claimed the longtime Fatah-Hamas tensions have contributed to the deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“In the end we must remember — this is in Israel’s hands. It can take certain steps to calm things down and ease tensions,” he said.

An Islamist terror group, Hamas violently took control of Gaza from Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its military and civilian presence from the Strip. Israel and Egypt maintain a security blockade of Gaza. Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas — which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border — from importing weaponry.

Khaled Abu Toameh and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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