Hamas: We don’t seek war, but won’t accept Israeli ‘incursions’
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Hamas: We don’t seek war, but won’t accept Israeli ‘incursions’

Ismail Haniyeh says IDF soldiers entering enclave ‘on pretext of searching for tunnels’ … a day after Israel finds tunnel

Palestinian Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, gives a speech during a rally in Gaza City, Aug. 27, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinian Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, gives a speech during a rally in Gaza City, Aug. 27, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Friday that his terror group is not seeking war with Israel but will not tolerate Israeli troops entering the Palestinian territory.

“We are not calling for a new war, but we will not under any circumstance accept these incursions,” he said in a prayer sermon in the Gaza Strip, on the fourth day of tit-for-tat exchanges of fire between Hamas and Israel around the coastal enclave.

Haniyeh said that Israeli forces had intruded “150 to 199 meters (165 to 220 yards) on the pretext of searching for tunnels.”

Israel on Thursday announced it located a cross-border tunnel extending into Israel and built by the terror group for the second time in recent weeks.

“We sent multiple messages that the resistance will not allow the Israeli occupation army to impose new rules within the borders of the Gaza Strip,” Haniyeh said.

He said the movement would not accept the “so-called buffer zone,” referring to a 100-meter (328-feet) wide strip along the border but inside Gazan territory where the Israeli army has said it reserves the right to operate.

Meanwhile, Palestinian and Egyptian sources told The Times of Israel that IDF troops had withdrawn from the Strip. On Thursday, IDF forces were operating in two areas inside the enclave — around Beit Hanoun in the northern Strip and Rafah in the south, according to the sources.

An Egyptian mediator conveyed messages between Israel and Hamas designed to prevent an escalation in hostilities, the sources said. Israel emphasized that it was only working to locate tunnels, and would remove its forces once its operations were complete.

Still, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, stressed that despite reports to the contrary, the IDF would continue its tunnel-detection operations.

“The army intends to maintain its activities against Hamas as it continues to breach Israeli sovereignty and build tunnels,” he said.

Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Entrance to a Hamas terror tunnel discovered by the IDF running under the Gaza border into Israel on May 5, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Since Tuesday, IDF soldiers working to unearth cross-border underground passages from the Gaza Strip have been targeted by Hamas mortar fire a dozen times, according to the army. The Israeli Air Force has carried out four raids on Hamas targets in retaliation, most recently on Friday morning.

Shells were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli soldiers on Friday, causing no injuries. The soldiers were operating near the southern edge of the coastal enclave, according to the Israel Defense Forces. The Israeli jets subsequently targeted a Hamas site in southern Gaza, according to the army. There were no reports of casualties.

Smoke billows over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip as Israel Air Force planes struck four Hamas military targets, May 5, 2016. (Screenshot: Shehab News Agency)
Smoke billows over Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip as Israel Air Force planes struck four Hamas military targets, May 5, 2016. (Screenshot: Shehab News Agency)

“The repeated attacks against the IDF activities to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels will not be tolerated. Hamas’s diabolical plan to infiltrate into Israeli communities must be stopped. The IDF has the obligation and a duty to safeguard the people in southern Israel and the sovereignty of our borders, we will continue to do so,” said IDF spokesman Peter Lerner in a statement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday morning convened the high-level security cabinet to discuss the escalation in violence.

No troops have thus far been injured in the attacks, although some engineering vehicles have been damaged, according to the army.

On Thursday, a Palestinian woman was killed when Israeli tank shells hit her home east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, according to the southern city’s Nasser Hospital. The woman was identified by the hospital as Zeina al-Amour, 54.

Palestinian media also reported that a number of people were injured in a series of Israeli airstrikes in the area of Rafah on Thursday, also in the southern Gaza Strip. The IAF confirmed its aircraft hit four military posts belonging to Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Palestinian enclave, Thursday afternoon.

Earlier Thursday, the IDF revealed that it had discovered another Hamas attack tunnel burrowing into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. It was the second such tunnel discovered in a month. The second tunnel, which is slated to be destroyed in the coming days, is 28 meters (90 feet) deep and was located just a few kilometers from the location of another tunnel discovered and destroyed last month, the army said.

Despite the increased tension along the border with Gaza in recent weeks, the years since the 2014 conflict, known as Operation Protective Edge, have been the quietest in over a decade, in terms of rocket fire and attacks coming from the coastal enclave.

Since the discovery of the first attack tunnel last month, the IDF and the Israeli government have stressed there are no indications of an imminent large-scale conflict with the Hamas terrorist organization.

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