Hamas has sent a warning to Israel that it will respond forcefully and immediately to any attack on the Gaza Strip, a Lebanese newspaper reported Friday.
Quoting an unnamed source in the Gaza-ruling terror group, the Al-Akhbar daily also said Hamas refused to accept aid money from Qatar as Israel put new conditions on its transfer, according to Hebrew media reports.
The source said these conditions included Israel’s objection to using the $15 million in Qatari funds to pay the salaries of a number of top Hamas members.
Hamas’s rejection of the money from Qatar has stoked fears in Israel of renewed violence on the Gaza border, which has seen large-scale weekly clashes since last year and periodic flareups between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror organizations.
Israel had temporarily held up the transfer of the Qatari aid following a pair of shooting attacks on the border Tuesday but on Thursday gave its approval. Hamas announced shortly after it would not take the funds, accusing Israel of violating a ceasefire agreement.
According to Al-Akhbar, Qatar’s envoy to Gaza Mohammed Al-Emadi told Hamas that Israel was on standby in case of a military conflict with armed groups in Gaza. The daily said Hamas, for its part, warned its response would be larger than a massive exchange of fire between the sides in November that saw the largest number of rockets shot toward Israel since the 2014 Gaza war.
That round of violence came after a botched special forces operation in the Strip which saw an Israeli commando and at least seven Hamas fighters die in the ensuing firefights.
In light of the renewed tensions on the border, the Israeli military on Thursday began beefing up its troop presence near Gaza. It also deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and in the south as a precautionary measure against potential attack from either the Gaza Strip or from the north, where the security situation has also been increasingly precarious.
Defense officials reportedly fear that the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad terror group could fire a longer-range missile from Gaza into Israel’s densely populated heartland.
Israeli officials are also worried that fighters in the Strip could carry out cross-border shooting attacks, either with light arms or anti-tank missiles, the Ynet news website reported. Some roads near the Gaza fence are expected to be closed off Friday.
“If no agreement is reached, the chances for violence along the border tomorrow afternoon are high,” a Gazan source told Ynet.
Under the unofficial ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas, Doha has agreed to transfer a total of $90 million to Gaza in monthly installments of $15 million. The group received the funds, in $100 bills, in November and December.
The money, $10 million of which goes to Hamas civil servants and the rest to needy residents in the Strip, was seen by defense analysts as key to calming tensions between Israel and the Palestinian enclave, which has seen regular violence along the border over the past 10 months.
According to reports, Hamas had been trying to calm the situation after the Tuesday flareup to allow the money through, but the use of the cash as a carrot had increased pressure on the group to reject it and take a harder line toward Israel.
Since March, Palestinians have been holding regular protests on the border. Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using the demonstrations as a cover for attacks on troops and attempts to breach the security fence.
Over 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured along the Gaza border by Israeli troops since March, according to statistics from the United Nations and the Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry. Hamas has claimed many of the dead as its members.
An IDF soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July during a riot along the security fence. A Palestinian man living in Israel was also killed by a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in November.