The Israeli military on Thursday accused the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group of efforts to “destabilize” the situation in the Gaza Strip, as an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas appeared to be in peril of collapsing.
“In recent weeks, we have monitored increasing attempts by the Islamic Jihad movement to destabilize the security situation in the Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces’ Arabic-language spokesperson tweeted.
“The activities of the radical Islamic Jihad movement risk… the attempts to improve the civilian reality in the Gaza Strip,” Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee added.
The accusations by the army spokesman came shortly after the Hamas terror group announced it would not be accepting millions of dollars in funding from the Qatari government, a key aspect of the unofficial ceasefire arrangement with Israel.
The $15 million tranche — out of a total of $60 million still to be paid to Hamas in four monthly installments — had originally been scheduled for transfer last week, but was blocked by the Israeli security cabinet over violence along the border. The funds were then due to be transferred on Wednesday, but were delayed then, too, after Israeli soldiers came under fire along the Gaza border on Tuesday.
The Israeli military believes the shooting attacks on its troops — including sniper fire at an Israeli commander, who was hit in the helmet by a bullet — were directed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in the Gaza Strip, which receives much of its funding from Israel’s nemesis, Iran.
“Residents of Gaza, through its activities, Islamic Jihad is putting your safety and security at risk,” Adraee wrote.
“There is no question about the loyalty of this organization. The only issue is whether it will succeed in its plans to drag you all toward an escalation,” he added.
Following further cabinet discussions and in light of the recommendations of the heads of all of Israel’s security services, the government on Thursday said that it had approved the transfer of the funds to cash-strapped Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.
However, moments after the Israeli announcement, senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said his group was not accepting the Qatari money, accusing Israel of violating the ceasefire agreement brokered by the Egyptian military, UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and Qatar by withholding the money in response to border violence.
“We told the brother and ambassador [Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi] that we reject the third Qatari grant in response to the occupation’s behavior and its attempts to disengage from the understandings that Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar mediated,” Hayya told reporters in a Gaza press conference.
“We say our people and Gaza will not be part of the blackmail and the internal Zionist elections,” he said.
It was not immediately clear how Hamas’ refusal to accept the remaining money would affect the unofficial ceasefire.
Prior to Hamas’ announcement, the Israel Defense Forces deployed Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and in the south as a precautionary measure against potential attack from either the Gaza Strip or from the north, where the security situation has also been increasingly precarious.
Under the unofficial ceasefire arrangement between Israel and Hamas, Doha agreed to transfer a total of $90 million to Gaza in monthly installments of $15 million. The group received the funds, in $100 bills, in November and December.
The money, $10 million of which goes to Hamas civil servants and the rest to needy residents in the Strip, was seen by defense analysts as key to calming tensions between Israel and the Palestinian enclave, which has seen regular violence along the border over the past 10 months.
“With our many active forces and factions, we are leading our efforts in the direction of obtaining our rights, which have been taken from us, on the path to liberation and return,” Hayya said.
The Hamas official said al-Emadi “understood” the terror group’s decision not to accept the funds.
“In the name of the Palestinian people, I offer our gratitude to Qatar — its emir, its people and its institutions. We tell them that Qatar’s efforts are appreciated,” the Hamas official said.
Al-Emadi arrived in the Gaza Strip late Wednesday evening via the Erez crossing, the Hamas-linked Al-Quds TV reported.
A diplomatic source told The Times of Israel that al-Emadi was still in his office in Gaza as of Thursday evening, noting that it was unclear when he would depart Gaza — a possible sign that negotiations with Hamas were ongoing.
The transfer of the funds to Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, is widely unpopular in Israel.
Since March, Palestinians have been holding regular protests on the border. Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using the demonstrations as a cover for attacks on troops and attempts to breach the security fence.
Over 200 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more injured along the Gaza border by Israeli troops during this time, according to statistics from the United Nations and the Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry. Hamas has claimed many of the dead as its members.
An IDF soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July during a riot along the security fence. A Palestinian man living in Israel was also killed by a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip in November.