Hamas warns terror groups may resume rocket fire unless Qatari funds enter Gaza

Unnamed sources in Palestinian terror group tell Lebanese media a ‘larger and broader’ escalation will come if demands are not met by end of week

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Masked Hamas members parade with Qassam rockets through the streets of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on May 27, 2021. (AP/Yousef Masoud)
Masked Hamas members parade with Qassam rockets through the streets of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on May 27, 2021. (AP/Yousef Masoud)

Hamas will escalate the situation on the border if Israel does not allow the passage of Qatari funds into the Gaza Strip by the end of this week, sources in the terror group told a Lebanese newspaper on Thursday.

The sources from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, told the Al Akhbar newspaper that if there are no changes to the current situation regarding the entry of money and goods to the enclave, it may push some Gaza terror factions to launch rockets at southern Israel.

In June, a similar threat was conveyed via the Lebanese paper, which apparently resulted in the resumption of incendiary balloon attacks.

With Israel’s approval, Qatar has in recent years distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to enable Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, pay civil servants’ salaries, and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.

An official familiar with the negotiations told The Times of Israel this month that Israel had notified Egyptian mediators that it will no longer allow the entrance of unmonitored Qatari cash into the Strip, as had previously been done.

Hamas sources told the Lebanese Al Akhbar newspaper that the organization would wait until the end of the week for the money to enter.

Additionally, the terror group demanded that border crossings fully reopen and buildings supplies reach the Strip, or else “the escalation will be intense along the border, and it will take other larger and broader forms.”

A Hamas security officer checks a truck entering Gaza at the gate of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, June 21, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

The threats followed the resumption of the launching of balloons carrying incendiary devices from Gaza toward southern Israel on Sunday, sparking a number of fires.

In response to the arson attacks, Israel announced it was cutting the Gaza Strip’s fishing zone in half, from 12 nautical miles to six, and it later carried out airstrikes on several buildings in a Hamas military base in the coastal enclave.

Illustrative: Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City on May 13, 2021. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

In recent weeks, ministers in Israel’s high-level security cabinet were presented a new proposal that would enable aid to reach Gaza without enriching the terror organization. But no final decision has been reached yet.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has in the past been a harsh critic of Israel allowing the Qatari cash infusions into the Strip, calling it “protection money” in 2018. However, the payments continued while he was defense minister in 2019.

Earlier this month it was reported that the United Nations has agreed to take responsibility for the disbursement of the Qatari funds.

Hamas conveyed to Egypt its dissatisfaction with the current situation, according to the Al Akhbar report, and blamed Israel’s policies, as the country has insisted on linking the reconstruction of Gaza to a potential prisoner swap.

Two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers are currently being held in Gaza. Avraham Avera Mengistu and Hisham a-Sayed entered the Strip of their own accord, and their families say they suffer from mental illness. Hamas is also holding the bodies of Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin, IDF soldiers who were killed in the Strip during the 2014 Gaza war.

Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed. (Flash 90/Courtesy)

Hamas has so far insisted on separating prisoner negotiations from any discussions related to a potential long-term truce or the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Hamas concluded 11 days of fighting in May during which the terror group launched some 4,300 rockets at Israeli cities and towns, and Israel launched hundreds of retaliatory airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

Following the war, Gaza’s border crossings had been largely restricted. But in recent weeks Israel relaxed some restrictions on goods and mail entering and leaving the Strip.

Israel and Egypt have blockaded the Gaza Strip for nearly 15 years in an attempt to weaken the enclave’s Hamas rulers, who took charge in a 2007 coup. Both countries say the measure is necessary to prevent the terror group from obtaining weapons and materials to build fortifications and tunnels.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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