After two consecutive nights of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli cities and communities, the Hamas terror group told armed Gaza factions on Sunday to “keep their fingers on the trigger.”
“We call on our noble resistance in Gaza to keep their fingers on the trigger, to keep their rockets on standby to target the enemy’s fortresses and military and vital structures,” Hamas said in a statement.
Gazan armed factions have launched over 40 rockets into Israel over the last two days. On Saturday, a number of Palestinian terror groups fired experimental rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea as a show of force.
Palestinian terror groups have said that the weekend’s rocket attacks were in response to ongoing unrest in Jerusalem, where Arab residents have demonstrated for several days against Ramadan restrictions on congregating near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.
Some of the gatherings have turned violent when police sought to expel Palestinians from the area, with Palestinians throwing stones at armed officers and setting garbage cans ablaze. Police have responded with sponge bullets and stun grenades, arresting over 100 Palestinians since the beginning of Ramadan two weeks ago.
Far-right Jewish supremacists also held violent rallies, seeking out and attacking Palestinians in the capital’s downtown, while some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have attacked and beaten a number of Jewish Israelis across the city.
Two Gaza factions, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a branch of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, have claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. But Israel holds Hamas directly responsible for all fire from the enclave into Israeli territory, charging that it takes place with the terror group’s consent.
The Hamas leadership called East Jerusalemites to continue “mobilizing in the Old City and at its gates.” Hamas also said night patrols of Palestinians ought to be formed to protect East Jerusalem residents from assaults by Jewish extremists.
“You are proving to the world, yet again, that Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine,” the terror group told East Jerusalem Palestinians.
The widening circle of clashes has sparked concerns in Israel that the situation could escalate across the West Bank and Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Saturday for the military to “prepare for any scenario” with Gaza. Defense Minister Benny Gantz similarly said that the Israel Defense Forces “will do what is necessary so the calm is preserved,” following security consultations at defense headquarters in Tel Aviv.
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi canceled his planned visit to Washington, DC, amid concerns that the fighting in Gaza would escalate, the military said
The Israeli military notably refrained from conducting retaliatory strikes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday night in an apparent bid to ease tensions. Israel normally adopts a tit-for-tat strategy, responding to Gazan rocket fire by shelling Hamas observation posts or imposing restrictions on the Gaza Strip.
Kohavi said on Monday that the rocket fire from Gaza had posed a “dilemma” on how to respond, according to comments from a closed meeting reported by the Ynet news site.
“Neither in Israel, nor in Gaza, is there any wish to escalate the situation,” Kohavi was said to tell local mayors during a briefing, Ynet reported.
“We are dealing with violent incidents on the Palestinian front in a number of locations and we are working to return stability and calm to southern communities. At the same time, we are preparing fully for the possibility that the situation will ramp up or widen, and we are conducting preparations for this as needed,” Kohavi added in a statement by the IDF.
The IDF chief also met with top officers from the IDF General Staff and Southern Command to discuss the situation and called for “continued preparation for a variety of scenarios on the southern front,” the military said.