Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of “choking” the Gaza Strip by withholding funds to the coastal enclave and warned of “very difficult consequences” as a result of the PA policy.
“In the last year, Abbas has made the situation in Gaza more difficult by choking off the flow of funds from the Palestinian Authority to Gaza,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference in Jerusalem, after holding talks with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Abbas has imposed a series of crippling sanctions on the Strip in a bid to force Hamas to give up control. The terror group has ruled Gaza since it ousted Abbas’s rival Fatah faction in 2007.
Netanyahu’s comments came after Abbas’s speech to the UN General Assembly last week in which he threatened to “give up responsibility” for Gaza if Hamas refused to respond positively to Egyptian efforts to broker a reconciliation deal between the rival Palestinian factions.
Standing alongside the German leader, the prime minister said the financial pressure “could lead to very difficult consequences.”
“As a result of this choke-hold, pressures have been created there and as a result of the pressures, from time to time Hamas attacks Israel at a relatively low intensity but the choke-hold is tightening,” said the prime minister.
He also accused the PA leader of obstructing UN efforts to aid the Gaza Strip.
“Abbas has interfered in all UN attempts to ease the plight in Gaza, including now and… many countries, today I can say that even the donor countries, are condemning him for this, and rightly so,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu also warned the Hamas terrorist group against attacking Israel, as Israeli troops deployed additional forces along the Gaza border and were ordered to remain on high alert.
“On the other hand, if Hamas thinks that as a result of this plight it can attack Israel – it will be making a very major mistake,” said Netanyahu. “Our response will be harsh, very harsh. I hope that it is possible to halt this strangulation but I also reiterate that Israel will act with all necessary strength to defend itself and its citizens.”
Gaza border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have increased dramatically in recent weeks. These began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.
When those talks stalled, Hamas increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.
These nightly riots, in which Palestinians regularly throw grenades and improvised explosives at IDF troops, as well as ongoing airborne arson attacks using balloons carrying incendiary devices, have threatened to spark a new large-scale clash between Hamas and the IDF in Gaza.
Abbas has slashed funding to Gaza and cut salaries of PA employees there to pressure Hamas into handing over the territory, making it increasingly difficult for Hamas to govern. Hamas fears Abbas may reduce funding for health care and other services for Gazans.
Further cuts to Gaza’s budget are seen as a move that could worsen the Strip’s already dire humanitarian situation and deepen a rift between the rival groups.
Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement to bring the West Bank and Gaza under the PA’s authority in October 2017, however the rival parties failed to implement deal.
Last week, the World Bank warned the Gaza Strip’s economy was in “free fall.” The report said Gaza’s economy shrunk by six percent in the first quarter of 2018 “with indications of further deterioration since then,” it said.
Agencies contributed to this report.