Terror factions in the Gaza Strip hinted Saturday at a possible response to the reported deaths of four Palestinians in weekly border clashes with Israeli troops.
“Following Israel’s crimes yesterday against non-violent protesters in the March of Return that led to the death of four demonstrators and injuries to dozens, the joint command center is in ongoing consultations,” the military wings of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terror groups said in a statement.
“The joint command center will have a clear position tomorrow regarding response policy and action guidelines concerning Israel’s arrogance and crimes against our people,” they added.
A senior Islamic Jihad official was more specific, saying the group would renew attacks on Israel if more people were killed, and that it had “surprises” in store.
The Israeli army said around 8,000 Palestinians had gathered along the border Friday, burning tires and launching rocks and incendiary devices at soldiers, which did not reach the troops. It said soldiers opened fire “according to operational procedures.”
Three Palestinians, including a 16-year-old, were reported killed. Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry identified the teen as Mohammed al-Jahjuh and said he was “hit in the neck by a bullet [fired] by Israeli soldiers.”
Abdelaziz Abu Sharia, 28, and Naher Yasin, 40, died from their wounds after being shot in separate incidents along the heavily fortified frontier with Israel, officials said.
A fourth Palestinian died after succumbing to wounds sustained in Friday’s protests, the Palestinian Safa news agency reported Saturday morning. According to the agency, Ayman Munir Mohammed Shabir, 18, was shot in the abdomen during clashes with the IDF east of the Bureij refugee camp in the central Strip.
The ministry said 46 others were wounded. There were no reports of casualties on the Israeli side.
Army Radio said they were the first Palestinian fatalities in Gaza protests since a ceasefire deal went into effect last month.
Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman said Friday’s clashes were proof that a ceasefire deal with Hamas, over which he resigned last month, was ineffective.
“‘The arrangement’ with Hamas is collapsing,” Liberman, who heads the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, wrote on Facebook.
He accused the government of ignoring the violence on the Gaza border and said the government was paying “protection money” to Hamas by allowing Qatari money for the terror group’s administrative workers into the Strip.
“Hamas continues to encourage attacks and rioting near the [border] fence, digging tunnels and manufacturing rockets. Therefore we must shut down Hamas’s ATM and stop capitulating to terror,” Liberman said.
The protests come after several weeks of relative calm in Gaza. However, the last two weeks have seen a spike in terror attacks in the West Bank, some of which were claimed by Hamas. An Islamist terror group that seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, Hamas openly seeks to destroy Israel.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had issued a warning to Hamas.
“I conveyed a clear message to Hamas — we won’t accept a situation of a truce in Gaza and terror in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting, using the biblical name for the West Bank.
Since March, Palestinians have been holding weekly “March of Return” protests on the border, which Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using to carry out attacks on troops and attempt to breach the security fence.
Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.
The border protests come weeks after Hamas and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza engaged in the heaviest battle with Israel since the 2014 war. Since then, Hamas has largely been keeping protesters at a distance from the fence.
After an Israeli special forces operation in Gaza was exposed, and an Israeli soldier and seven Hamas gunmen were killed in the ensuing firefight, some 500 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel over the course of November 12-13 — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 conflict.
The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside Israeli cities and towns, killing one person, injuring dozens, and causing significant property damage.
Agencies contributed to this report.