A Hamas official on Wednesday suggested that if Israel continues to carry out strikes on the Gaza Strip, the terror group would join Palestinian Islamic Jihad in firing rockets at the Jewish state, according to a Fox News report.
“If airstrikes and aggression continue, Hamas and the resistance groups will have to morally respond to and protect the Palestinian people,” the unnamed Hamas official told the US channel.
English and Hebrew news outlets have widely reported that while Islamic Jihad has fired hundreds of rockets at Israel since Israeli security forces eliminated Baha Abu al-Ata, one of its top commanders in Gaza, on Tuesday morning, Hamas has elected not to participate in the fighting.
But at least one Hamas official has strongly insinuated the Gaza-ruling terrorist group has taken part in the ongoing confrontation. Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, rules the enclave. It is the most powerful terror group in the Strip, with the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad being the second largest organization.
“We say to the occupation: You cannot single out Islamic Jihad and the [Izz ad-Din] al-Qassam Brigades and the Al-Quds Brigades are [standing] side by side in the fighting,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told the Hamas-linked Shehab Wednesday afternoon, referring to the terror group’s armed wing.
Islamic Jihad and other terror groups, however, have put out joint statements, taking credit for firing rockets at Israel, which do not bear the signature of the Qassam Brigades.
A senior Gaza-based politician declined to comment, while two Hamas officials did not respond to calls.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, unnamed Palestinian sources said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad were carefully coordinating the fight to avoid a broader conflict with Israel. The report also said the sources stated that Israel has conveyed a warning to Hamas that it will strike high-rise buildings in Gaza should the ruling terror group join the attacks.
Since Israel killed Abu al-Ata on Tuesday in the Shajaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, Islamic Jihad and other terror groups have fired at least 360 rockets and mortars at Israel, according to the IDF. Israeli security forces have responded to the projectiles, carrying out strikes on Islamic Jihad’s infrastructure as well as its fighters attempting to launch rockets at the Jewish state, the army said.
Earlier on Wednesday, Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Breim said the terror group was still not interested in engaging international interlocutors to achieve a ceasefire with Israel.
“There is no talk about mediation. It is inappropriate to talk about that, with all due respect to any Arab efforts [to restore calm],” Breim told Shehab. “When we complete our response, it is possible to discuss calm.”
Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Tuesday that Cairo was attempting to lower tensions between Israel and the terror groups. The officials added the Egyptian General Intelligence Service stepped up communications and “opened channels” with the United States and the European Union.
Nickolay Mladenov, United Nations special coordinator to the Middle East peace process, expressed concern on Wednesday about the continued tensions between Israel and the terror groups.
“I am very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel, following the targeted killing of one of the group’s leaders inside Gaza yesterday,” he said in a statement emailed to reporters, stating his rejection of “the indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars against population centers.”
“The continuing escalation is very dangerous. It is yet another attempt to undermine the efforts to improve the dire socio-economic conditions in Gaza and prevent another devastating conflict. The UN is working to urgently de-escalate the situation,” he added.
In the past year, both the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and Mladenov have been involved in brokering unofficial ceasefires between Israel and the terror groups. Egyptian intelligence officials and Mladenov have frequently visited Gaza to discuss the truce agreements.
Israel on Wednesday threatened to carry out additional targeted killings against Gaza terror rulers, but has refrained from explicitly threatening Hamas. This position marked a departure from previous rounds of fighting, when the Jewish state maintained it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from the coastal territory.