The Hamas terror organization and other Gazan groups have warned residents of the Palestinian enclave to prepare for an Israeli incursion, which they claim is set to begin in the coming days, an Arabic-language newspaper reported Sunday
Citing “reliable Palestinian sources,” the report in London-based al-Hayat said that Palestinian leaders, including Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar predicted Israel will use upcoming joint military maneuvers with US army units in southern Israel as cover for an offensive to stage the attack.
Sinwar and other Palestinian leaders in Gaza put the likelihood of an assault at 95 percent, the London-based Al-Hayat said.
As part of its preparations, Hamas ordered the highest level of readiness, evacuated its headquarters and has, over the past few days, set up security checkpoints on roads across the Gaza Strip, according to the report.
The Al-Hayat report came the day after Israeli fighter jets struck Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip, in response to a rocket fired toward Israel from the coastal enclave.
The IDF is scheduled this week to begin a large-scale joint Israel-US military exercise, which will simulate a major conflict in which Israel is attacked with thousands of missiles.
There was no official comment from the IDF, though Army Radio reported that it seemed Hamas was attempting to draw international attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Strip and was not actually putting the Strip on war footing.
Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant, speaking to Army Radio, also dismissed the Hamas predictions as “mostly talk, nothing to get worked up about.”
“The ratio of forces of Israel to Hamas is 1000:1,” Galant said. “If they start a conflict the outcome is known.”
Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, has been under increasing pressure as the coastal enclave teeters on the verge of an economic and infrastructure collapse that UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov last week said was already “well beyond” a humanitarian crisis.
Last month, the US froze over $100 million in contributions to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, after the Palestinians announced they would no longer accept the US as a mediator in peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians were angered after US President Donald Trump on December 6 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Israeli security officials are weighing sending food and medicine to the Gaza Strip for the first time, in an effort to prevent the deteriorating conditions from spiraling into violence, Hadashot news reported Saturday.
In a security assessment handed recently to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense establishment reiterated its belief that Hamas is not interested in another conflict with Israel. However, an economic collapse would make such a scenario inevitable.
Most eyes are turned north, not south, ahead of the biennial Juniper Cobra military exercise with US troops, which is being held for the ninth time.
The exercise will take place amid an escalation of rhetoric between Israel and the Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon, which is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 short-, medium- and long-range missiles, and a fighting force of some 50,000 soldiers, including reservists.
Galant on Sunday added his voice to the Israeli warnings that Hezbollah should not provoke a conflict with Israel.
“If Hezbollah draws Israel into a war, we will return Lebanon to the stone Age — anyone who prepares 100,000 rockets doesn’t intend to use them to send flowers and candies,” he told Army Radio.
The last major conflict between Israel and Hamas was the 2014 IDF Operation Protective Edge, in which Israel battled against Hamas-led Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
During the 50-day conflict, 72 Israeli soldiers and civilians were killed, as well as one foreign workers from Thailand. According to Gaza-based sources, around 2,200 Palestinian were killed, with Israel saying at least half were armed combatants.
The fighting also caused significant damage to Gaza’s infrastructure.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.