Hamas has reportedly issued a direct threat to escalate the violence along the Gaza-Israel border if Israel hinders the entry of Qatari cash into the Gaza Strip and fails to increase the supply of electricity.
The threat, published in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar on Tuesday morning, follows outbursts of violence and tension along the border over recent weekends, and repeated warnings by Hamas and other Gazan terror groups that the blockaded Palestinian enclave was on the verge of an “explosion.”
“The factions have given the interlocutors a direct threat [to pass along to Israel]: If the enemy does not implement the understandings, allowing entry of the Qatari funds and increasing the quantity of electricity by this weekend, they will move to escalate on the ground,” an unnamed Hamas source told the newspaper.
Hamas has 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 concerns that popular anger could snowball into another war with Israel.
Gaza has faced severe electricity shortages under a joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade, which grew more severe after 2014, when an Egyptian crackdown against Hamas all but sealed the enclave’s border with the Sinai Peninsula.
Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi is reportedly set to arrive in Gaza on Thursday 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.
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.
Hamas’s ultimatum drew accusations from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election challengers that his government had lost its ability to deter the Gazan terror group.
“This is what extortion looks like. To anyone who still doesn’t get it: our deterrence hasn’t eroded, it’s collapsed,” the Blue and White party said in a statement Tuesday. “In a Blue and White cabinet, we will set the agenda for Hamas, and won’t be its supplier of dollars.”
Al-Emadi’s visit, which will last for a number of days, will “follow up on the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee’s work and projects in the Gaza Strip as well as follow up on the payment of Qatari grants to poor families” in the coastal enclave, according to a Monday report from the Gaza-based news site Sawa.
It’s not clear why Hamas is demanding that Israel allow the Qatari funds to enter the Strip, as there are no reports that Israel was planning to prevent the visit.
Israel maintains many restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza, which its officials argue are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.
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.
Hamas, however, has frequently accused Israel of dragging its feet in implementing the informal agreements.
Analysts say that Hamas is desperately trying to prevent another round of hostilities with Israel in light of the Qatari money flowing into the Strip along with new reported plans to rebuild Gazan infrastructure.
On Sunday, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz blasted the Netanyahu government for “erasing” Israeli deterrence in Gaza. Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, said Hamas no longer fears Israel and promised to launch a military campaign to defeat the ruling terrorist group if his centrist party wins the upcoming elections.
The Gazan groups’ ultimatum comes two days after Hamas officials blamed “rebellious youth” for the recent upsurge in violence in and around the Palestinian territory.
On Friday and Saturday, rockets from Gaza were fired at Israeli communities, and later Saturday night, the Israeli army shot dead three armed Gazans attempting to sneak across the border. Hamas spokesman Abdelatif al-Qanou said Sunday Israel had “killed and injured four rebellious youths, which is a reflection of its brutal behavior against our people and proof of the ugliness of its crimes.”
In a similarly worded statement, Islamic Jihad, the second largest terror group in Gaza, said Israel had targeted a group of “angry youths” and that it holds the Jewish state fully responsible for “its ugly crimes at our people’s expense.”
In a Monday statement issued by several factions in Gaza to the Palestinian news agency Safa, the groups said they’ve “warned the Zionists against continuing with their crimes, but the enemy’s leaders are still playing with fire. With God’s help, the boiling in Gaza will explode in the faces of the leaders and soldiers of the enemy.”
“The rebellion of the youth is a harbinger of an explosion,” the factions said. “We won’t tolerate the crimes of the occupation against our nation any longer.”