The Hamas terror group fired a volley of rockets into the sea early Wednesday in a warning to Israel not to annex parts of the West Bank, sources in the organization told AFP.
The showcase launch of about 20 test rockets from the coastal Palestinian territory came as thousands of people in Gaza City answered Hamas calls for street protests.
The Israeli military said it was not aware of any rocket launches in the Strip.
The Haaretz newspaper cited local residents who reported hearing launches taking place.
Last week, the Gaza rulers said that should Israel go ahead with applying its sovereignty over settlements and the Jordan Valley as provided for in the US peace plan, it would amount to a “declaration of war” against Palestinians.
A day later, Palestinians in Gaza fired two rockets at Israel. The rockets fell in open areas and did not cause casualties or damage. One rocket landed in an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, while the second apparently fell within the Strip.
Israel retaliated with strikes on Hamas sites, saying it held the terror group responsible for attacks from Gaza.
Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the two most powerful terror groups in Gaza, have threatened to step up clashes along the border over the annexation plans, following months of relative calm in the area.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right coalition government had set July 1 as the date from which it could begin implementing US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace proposal, annexing territory.
But there was no announcement by Wednesday afternoon and none scheduled.
A confidant of Netanyahu confirmed that the premier’s plan would not start on Wednesday. Speaking to Army Radio, Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Ofir Akunis said Israeli officials were still working out the final details with their American counterparts.
The plan, unveiled in January, envisions bringing some 30 percent of the territory under permanent Israeli control, while giving the Palestinians limited autonomy in carved-up pockets of the remaining land.
Netanyahu’s unilateral annexation project has come under stiff international criticism. The United Nations, European Union and key Arab countries have all said Israel’s annexation would violate international law and undermine the already diminished prospects of establishing a viable independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Even close allies, like Britain, have opposed it.
Washington has recently appeared hesitant as well, apparently becoming less enthusiastic about the notion and its potential consequences for the region.
US officials have also indicated they do not want to move forward with a plan unless Netanyahu has the agreement of his Blue and White governing partners. Blue and White’s leader, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, this week said Wednesday’s target date was not “sacred” and suggested that annexation can wait while the government grapples with Israel’s coronavirus crisis.
Hebrew media reported Tuesday that Israel is seeking changes in a proposed US map for annexation, and that American officials are demanding an Israeli gesture to the Palestinians as compensation for any annexation that takes place.
In Gaza, protesters brandished Palestinian flags and placards condemning Trump, while calling for Hamas to take up arms against Israel.
“The resistance must be revived,” demonstrator Rafeeq Inaiah told AFP. “Israel is afraid of force.”
Others held signs reading “No to annexation” and “Palestinian lives matter,” referencing the US anti-racism movement “Black lives matter,” AFP journalists at the scene said.
Demonstrations were also building in the West Bank.
In the ancient Jordan Valley city of Jericho, a small number of Palestinian protesters were joined by retired left-wing Israeli politicians, among them Ophir Pines-Paz, a former Labor party interior minister.
“We want to affirm our support for peace,” he said. “Netanyahu and his annexation project must be stopped.”