Iran is funding Hamas’s violent campaign at Gaza border, Shin Bet says

Captured terror operatives say Hamas sends civilians to the fence, keeps its own gunmen back — ready to enter Israel if fence is breached to carry out terror attacks

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A Palestinian boy protester runs carrying a tire towards a fire during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza City on May 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
A Palestinian boy protester runs carrying a tire towards a fire during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Gaza City on May 4, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Iran is funding Hamas’s campaign to promote violence and attacks against Israel under the cover of mass demonstrations at the border, the Shin Bet security service said on Monday.

Hamas has warned its own members to stay away from the security fence during Gaza’s mass protests, lest they get shot, while actively encouraging Palestinian civilians — particularly children and teens — to approach the border, the Shin Bet added, citing findings from a number of interrogations. If the fence is breached, however, armed Hamas gunmen are poised to enter Israel to carry out attacks.

“There is a prohibition for Hamas operatives to approach the border, from a fear that they will be killed or captured by IDF troops, unless the security fence falls and then they must enter, armed, into Israel under the cover of the masses and carry out terror attacks,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

Over the course of the past seven weeks of violent demonstrations along the Gaza border, in an event known collectively as the “March of Return,” Israeli forces have arrested a number of Palestinians, some of them Hamas members, who crossed the security fence into Israeli territory.

Ahead of mass riots expected on Monday, the Shin Bet released the findings of its interrogations of those suspects, which the security service said showed the methods used by Hamas to destabilize the border area, breach the fence and try to carry out terror attacks inside Israeli territory.

“From the information we have, it appears Hamas is encouraging and sending protesters to the border fence in order to carry out violent acts and damage security infrastructure. In addition, it was found that Iran is providing funding to Hamas in order for it to carry out these violent activities along the Gaza Strip’s border fence,” the Shin Bet said.

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The security service did not provide specific evidence of Iranian involvement. However, Hamas has maintained relations with the Islamic Republic and reportedly drawn significant funding from Tehran.

On Monday, the Israel Defense Forces expects upwards of 100,000 Palestinians to take part in violent protests along the Gaza border. These riots were expected on Tuesday, the Palestinian Nakba Day, which commemorates Palestinians’ displacement from their homes following the creation of the State of Israel. But on Sunday the military assessed that Hamas would look to capitalize on the media attention around the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and move its plans up a day.

The IDF warned Sunday that Hamas was planning to “massacre” Israelis.

The IDF is particularly concerned that the demonstrations will see mass border breaches, in which Palestinians, including Hamas members, would stream across the border and wreak havoc in nearby Israeli communities — attacking residents, setting fires and destroying property.

“The IDF and the Shin Bet security service will continue with determination to prevent any infiltration attempts into the State of Israel in order to defend Israel’s citizens and sovereignty,” the Shin Bet said on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the IDF dropped thousands of leaflets into the Gaza Strip, telling residents not to be Hamas’s “puppets” and to keep away from the border.

The testimonies

Yahya Ijlah, a 19-year-old Hamas member who entered Israel on April 29, told Shin Bet interrogators that he had been sent to the border in order to steal a security camera along the fence.

Captured Hamas operative Yahya Ijlah (Shin Bet)

According to the Shin Bet, Ijlah said Hamas “is working to make its activities look like a popular uprising in the media, and not a violent operation by its members.”

The security service said that a number of suspects told interrogators that Hamas was specifically encouraging teenagers and children to approach and even breach the fence.

“The testimony showed a cynical use of children and innocent civilians by Hamas, while endangering their lives, in order to vandalize and steal equipment,” the Shin Bet said.

Salim Abu-Daher, 21, who was arrested after breaching the fence on April 28, told the Shin Bet that Hamas operatives wear normal street clothes and blend themselves into the masses of civilian protesters, while armed with “bottles of butane, knives and wire cutters,” the Shin Bet said.

Captured Hamas operative Salim Abu-Daher (Shin Bet)

The Shin Bet said that Ijlah revealed that during protests Hamas members are meant to act as instigators but not take action themselves.

“The role of Hamas members is to provide Gaza Strip residents with tires and help set them on fire. This is in order to create a thick smokescreen and to rile the Gaza residents, in order to convince them to infiltrate into Israeli territory,” the service said.

Hamas operatives also “help throw firebombs and prepare incendiary kites,” according to the Shin Bet.

These so-called “attack kites” or “terror kites” have proven a challenge to Israeli forces and have destroyed hundreds of dunams of farmland.

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