Israeli officials have reportedly indirectly warned the leader of the Hamas terror group in Gaza that it could retaliate against the group for encouraging a series of recent deadly terror attacks.
While Hamas has not taken responsibility for most of the attacks since March 22 that have left 19 people in Israel and the West Bank dead, terror group chief Yahya Sinwar has repeatedly called for Palestinians to assault Israelis and the group has publicly praised the perpetrators, encouraging more attacks.
The terror group also claimed responsibility for an attack that killed a security officer guarding the West Bank settlement of Ariel on April 29.
According to Channel 12 news, diplomatic and security officials relayed a message to Sinwar that the Ariel attack, coupled with his messages championing terror, gave Israel freedom to respond militarily in Gaza.
The message also included a personal threat against Sinwar, whom Israel has termed a “terror supporter” who may be dealt with in kind.
The network reported that the message was sent to Sinwar before two Palestinian terrorists armed with a knife and axe attacked people in the central city of Elad, Thursday night, killing three men and injuring seven others.
Suspects As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir, 20, are not thought to be members of Hamas, but may have been inspired by a speech from Sinwar urging Palestinians and Arab Israelis to commit terror attacks, Haaretz reported, citing an unnamed security source.
The Hamas terror group said the attack was “a heroic operation” in response to Jewish Israelis visiting the Temple Mount holy site earlier Thursday.
In a speech Saturday, Sinwar had threatened violent consequences should Israelis continue visiting the site.
He also urged Palestinians to strike Israelis with whatever they had — including axes. “Let everyone who has a rifle, ready it. And if you don’t have a rifle, ready your cleaver or an axe, or a knife,” Sinwar said.
Palestinians and Israeli forces have clashed repeatedly at the Temple Mount over the past few weeks. The violence echoed scenes from last year when rioting at the site helped spark a war between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups led by Hamas.
Ever since the May 2021 war, Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has threatened to fire rockets at Israel if it violated the organization’s “red lines” in Jerusalem. The terror group has hailed its “deterrence” against Israel in the contested capital as a key achievement of the war, which wrought widespread destruction in Gaza.
Calls for tougher action and Sinwar’s head in particular have multiplied in the wake of Thursday’s attack, despite the likelihood that doing so would spark a fresh war between Israel and Gaza.
“Sinwar is a dead man and he needs to be assassinated immediately,” Likud MK Yoav Gallant, a former deputy IDF chief, told Channel 13 news. “If it was up to me, he would be dead tomorrow. Assassinate him, no matter what the consequences are.”
“Sinwar wants to spark a religious war, it’s time to remove him from the scene,” wrote Ynet analyst Ron Ben Yishai.
“I think Israel doesn’t need to ask if, but when and how it is going to take care of this problem called Hamas that is looking not just for an incursion …but to hold the [West Bank] and Israeli Arabs. We cannot let them,” former deputy Shin Bet head Israel Hasson told Channel 12 news, calling for repressive collection action against Jenin and Gaza. “This government is not only able to do this, it needs to do this, or we’ll find ourselves with much harder problems to solve.”
According to Haaretz, Israel is also considering more moderate action, such as reducing the number of permits for Palestinian workers to enter Israel or freezing the permits altogether.