The Israeli army was on high alert along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel Friday ahead of weekly border rallies, amid concern of a potential escalation after days of rising violence in the region.
There were conflicting reports as to the intentions of the Hamas terror group, which rules the territory, ahead of the afternoon demonstrations.
Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported that Israel was conditioning the entry of new Qatari cash into the Strip on Hamas maintaining the peace until after the Israeli elections on September 17. But it said Hamas intended to raise tensions at the protests, with sources in the organization saying events would be more violent than in recent weeks, and that Hamas was considering renewing widespread sabotage attacks on the security fence, launching of arson balloons and nighttime rioting.
However, Gaza sources quoted by the Kan news broadcaster said Hamas was not seeking to agitate and would deploy its so-called restraint forces to ensure the demonstrations remained contained, and organizers urged participants to keep the rallies peaceful.
Meanwhile, Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi was reported to have entered Gaza Friday morning at the Erez Border Crossing, carrying his latest delivery of cash from Doha.
Israel has allowed Qatar to deliver regular infusions of millions of dollars in cash to the Strip to help stabilize the territory and prevent a humanitarian collapse and further violence.
This agreement is seen as an additional incentive for Hamas to keep violence at the border contained.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief election rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, criticized the arrangement on Friday, as well as the reported Israeli demand to delay any escalation until after the election.
“Quiet for money, that’s Netanyahu’s deal with Hamas,” he tweeted. “Quiet now — rockets after the election. Israeli deterrence has been wiped out and Netanyahu is losing control.”
Emadi was reportedly set to oversee the disbursement of another $25 million in $100 bills to needy families, and to discuss infrastructure projects funded by the Gulf emirate in the Strip.
Recent days have seen an uptick in violence on the frontier. Rockets were fired at Israel from the enclave late Wednesday and early Thursday, prompting Israeli reprisal attacks.
The IDF on Thursday blamed the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad for the recent increase in violence from Gaza and called for Hamas to rein in the terror group. “We do not plan to accept terror attacks and rocket fire against our citizens,” the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesperson Avichay Adraee tweeted.
Hamas has also sought to distance itself from a series of cross-border attacks over the past month, painting the perpetrators as young lone-wolf Palestinian attackers exasperated by the humanitarian situation in the enclave. On Monday, Hamas leaders expressed concern that popular anger could snowball into another war with Israel.
Last week, Hamas reportedly deployed extra security forces to the border area to stop the cross-border attacks. Nonetheless, on Saturday Israel said it identified a group of armed Palestinian approaching the fence to carry out a cross-border attack and killed them with tank and helicopter fire.
On Thursday night Israeli soldiers wounded a Palestinian man who attacked them with grenades on the northern Gaza border.
Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have recently played key roles in brokering informal ceasefires between Israel and Gaza, which have largely entailed Hamas and other terror groups halting violence in the border area in exchange for the Jewish state scaling back some of the restrictions it has imposed on the coastal enclave.