A top Israeli general warned Saturday that further rocket fire from the Gaza Strip towards Israel would be met with a “severe and painful response,” a day after a number of rockets were launched at southern Israel from the enclave amid tensions over US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Maj. Gen Yoav Mordechai, the military liaison to the Palestinians, wrote on his Facebook page on Saturday in Arabic that “irresponsible” terror groups are seeking an “escalation” with Israel, and warned Gazans that they will be the ones who end up paying the price.
“The continuation of the instances of [rocket] fire will lead to a severe and painful response by the Israel Defense Forces. Don’t try to test our strength,” wrote Mordechai.
He reiterated that Israel holds Hamas, the terror group that runs Gaza, responsible for any attacks coming out of the enclave.
Mordechai’s comments came after a number of rockets were fired at Israel on Friday from Gaza for a second consecutive day. At least one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system, but one landed in a residential area of the town of Sderot, without causing injuries.
Israel later launched a series of air strikes on Hamas targets in response to the rockets. In one of the IAF strikes on a Hamas base in Nusseirat, located in the central Gaza Strip, two Hamas gunmen were killed.
The flare-up on the Gaza border came as some 5,000 Palestinian protesters demonstrated and clashed with Israeli security forces on Friday at almost 30 locations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip after midday prayers, in a show of anger against US President Donald Trump’s Wednesday decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
While smaller than Friday’s protests, Saturday saw further clashes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has called for a new intifada, urged Palestinians to confront Israeli soldiers and settlers, and vowed to continue violence until the liberation of Jerusalem.
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that Palestinians would “never back down” and “will not allow implementation” of new US policy in Jerusalem. He vowed that Palestinian “rage” would continue.
In a Wednesday address from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.
The move was hailed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
In an Arabic Facebook post on Friday, Mordechai had stressed the US recognition would not affect Muslim access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount — the holiest place in Judaism — which houses the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
“The status quo in Jerusalem in general and Al-Aqsa, in particular, is being preserved. Don’t listen to extremists’ incitement and calls for violence,” wrote Mordechai, according to a Hebrew translation from the IDF.
“It is important for me to clarify beyond all doubt that despite the rumors and lies, there is no change on the ground: Friday prayers are taking place as usual, the crossings are open, and [Palestinian workers] are entering Israel,” he added.
Calling on the Palestinians to ignore the “lies and distortions that this is a religious war,” Mordechai said violence would only harm the Palestinians themselves, who “are being incited by lies about a war [between] religions.”
“I implore you not to allow extremists to ruin the Christmas holidays, the tourists headed towards you or the calm without which positive [and] meaningful growth is likely to stall or be lost,” he said.
Agencies contributed to this report.