Israel punishes Gaza bus companies for ferrying protesters
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Israel punishes Gaza bus companies for ferrying protesters

Military liaison says sanctioned firms ‘aided in transporting Hamas terrorists and violent rioters to the border’ during recent riots

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Buses received on July 13, 2016, on the Palestinian side of Israel's Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip in the first such delivery since 2007. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Illustrative: Buses received on July 13, 2016, on the Palestinian side of Israel's Erez border crossing with the Gaza Strip in the first such delivery since 2007. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians announced sanctions Monday against 14 Gazan transportation companies that bused protesters to demonstrations on the coastal enclave’s border with Israel that at times turned violent.

The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said Israel had learned of 14 companies that “aided in transporting Hamas terrorists and violent rioters to the border. As such, sanctions will be imposed on the owners of those companies.”

The sanctions come after previous Israeli warnings for Gazan bus companies to refrain from driving protesters to the border.

“As previously reported, COGAT sent notices to the owners of transportation companies in the Gaza Strip, warning them not to aid in the transport of Hamas terrorists and violent rioters to the Gaza Strip border with Israel,” Mordechai wrote in a statement.

He listed the 14 companies by name in a separate Arabic Facebook post.

Addressing the recent demonstrations on the Gaza border, Mordechai asserted that “the violent riots that have been taking place are fueled by Hamas and are an attempt to mask terror activities.”

Earlier this month, COGAT released a phone recording purporting to show that Hamas, the terror group that rules the strip, had forced drivers to bring protesters to the protest sites.

In the clip of a phone conversation between a COGAT official and a bus company owner, the Israeli security official could be heard warning the Palestinian against “taking part in terror” by driving Gazans to the protest as the companies had done the week before.

The driver responded by insisting that he and others had heeded Israeli warnings, but that those who refused to comply with Hamas pressure were jailed and replaced by other drivers willing to ferry Palestinians to the protests.

“We are not helping. Hamas came, arrested us, and filed a complaint against us,” he contended. “What are we supposed to do in such a situation?”

Hamas said that several owners of bus companies had received the phone calls warning them not to assist in the organization of the protests. The terror group added that Israeli security officers had threatened to take punitive measures against the owners and their companies, including banning them from operating at border crossings with Israel.

Palestinian protesters burn Israeli flags near the border fence with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza city, on April 13, 2018. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

On Friday, at least 10,000 Gazans took part in large-scale demonstrations, the third round of protests in as many weeks, with the Israeli military saying protesters hurled an explosive device and firebombs at Israeli troops deployed at the border, as well as making “several attempts” to damage the fence between Israel and Gaza and cross over into Israeli territory.

Protesters torched tires and burned large Israeli flags, as well as posters of Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, US President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Large plumes of black smoke from burning tires rose into the sky.

The previous Friday, about 20,000 Palestinians took part in the demonstrations, with the previous week attracting an estimated 30,000.

The protests are part of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said will be several weeks of “March of Return” demonstrations, which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.

More than 30 Palestinians have been killed in the clashes over the past three weeks, according to Hamas-run health authorities. Hamas has acknowledged that several of those killed were its members, and Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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