Hamas to Beersheba ‘settlers’: Run before it’s too late

Gaza-based movement accompanies its rocket fire toward southern city with psychological warfare in Hebrew

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hamas on Monday warned of further rocket fire toward Beersheba with a video clip calling on residents of the city to flee “before it’s too late.”

“To the settlers of Beersheba, your leaders have killed our children, bombed our homes, and sentenced you to death. Run before it’s too late,” read the message in Hebrew and Arabic in the one-minute video, distributed via social media.

It wasn’t the first time Hamas used psychological warfare against Israelis over recent months.

In March, the movement sent threatening text messages to a large number of Israelis reading “get out of our land,” and in May it produced a music clip to the tune of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” calling on Jews to emigrate or face death.

The statements echoed messages Israel has sent in the past to residents of Gaza. During Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, the IDF’s psychological warfare unit dropped hundreds of leaflets disparaging Hamas’s combat capabilities and took over Hamas media to broadcast Israeli messages. “Your death is near; you have no chance against the IDF’s special units and its weapons. Your leaders have fled and abandoned you alone in the field,” read the Arabic message in the leaflets.

Four Grad rockets were launched at Beersheba from Gaza over the course of the past 48 hours; one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system on Saturday evening and the others landed in open areas, causing no damage. An IDF patrol also came under anti-tank fire Monday morning near the Gaza border, with no injuries reported.

Hamas reported the death overnight Sunday of six members of its armed wing Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade in a tunnel explosion in Rafah. A seventh member of the movement died of his wounds following an Israeli Air Force strike east of the city. Israeli defense officials said the tunnel explosion was the result not of Israeli military activity but of a “work accident” likely caused by explosives the men were handling. Two members of Islamic Jihad were also killed on Sunday night.

“The enemy’s assassination of a number of Qassam Brigade and resistance members is a dangerous escalation. The enemy will pay the price,” warned Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on his Facebook page early Monday morning.

The flareup in Gaza has marked the first time Hamas itself actively fired rockets at Israel since November 2012, when a ceasefire brokered by Egypt was reached following operation Pillar of Defense.

But Israeli military sources spoke to a clear disparity between Hamas’s political wing, which is uninterested in military escalation, and the movement’s armed wing, which is actively breaking the ceasefire amid popular anger over the killing of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem July 2, apparently as revenge for the killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in June.

On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke with the head of Hamas’s political wing, Khaled Mashaal, and asked him to take immediate steps to quell any further escalation of hostilities against Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Abbas asserted that further rocket fire would only provide Israel with “an excuse” to take military action in the Gaza Strip, Arab media reported.

Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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