Israel has warned Hamas that it will respond forcefully to any attempt to disrupt this week’s summit of world leaders in Jerusalem, and will not hesitate to strike the terror group in the Gaza Strip in response to such provocations, regardless of the intensified international focus, according to a report Monday.
Israeli officials, Channel 13 reported, believe Hamas is behind the spate of balloon-borne bombs and incendiary devices launched into Israel in recent days, as the group seeks to signal it is unhappy with the slow progress of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire.
Officials have assessed that the group could move to undermine the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, to be held in Jerusalem on Wednesday and Thursday — either by increasing balloon attacks at Israeli communities or by allowing other smaller groups to fire rockets into Israel, the report said.
The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is scheduled to take place on January 23 at Yad Vashem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
At least 47 world leaders or senior diplomats, including 26 presidents, four kings and four prime ministers will be in town for the event, and a state dinner at the President’s Residence the previous evening.
The guest list includes US Vice President Mike Pence, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zolenskyy, Spain’s King Felipe VI, Britain’s Prince Charles, and many more leaders from Romania, Italy, Austria, Greece, Cyprus, Albania, Croatia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Sweden, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Bosnia, Iceland, Armenia, Australia, Canada and other nations.
In the lead-up to the conference, the Israel Defense Forces has boosted deployment of Iron Dome missile defense batteries in the south, as well deploying other protective measures, the TV report said.
Israel has also initiated a full call-up of the Shin Bet security agency’s Protective Security Department to ensure the security of world leaders throughout the conference, it said.
Ten thousand police officers are being deployed to protect the leaders in Jerusalem and in transit to and from the airport. The army will also take charge of protecting leaders that cross into the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders.
The first dignitaries will begin arriving Tuesday, though most leaders are expected to come Wednesday. Pence and Putin are scheduled to arrive on Thursday.
In recent days, terrorists have flown numerous bombs and incendiary devices into Israeli territory from the enclave with the aid of helium-filled balloons, at times prompting retaliatory strikes from the Israeli Defense Forces.
The tactic of launching balloons carrying explosive and arson devices from Gaza into Israel emerged in 2018 as part of a series of protests and riots along the Strip’s border, known collectively as the March of Return. The simple and cheap method of attack by Palestinians has proved effective as Israeli security forces have struggled to counter the tactic, but had largely stopped over half a year ago.
On Monday, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations complained after a column in a Palestinian Authority daily said that “One shot will disrupt the ceremony and one dead body will cancel the ceremony.”
“It is especially repugnant for the PA to incite terrorism deliberately aimed at disrupting an occasion as solemn and significant as this,” the conference said in a statement.
Palestinian Media Watch, a non-governmental organization that closely monitors official PA media, first translated the column into English.
The author of the piece, Yahya Rabah, told The Times of Israel that he was not calling for violence. “I was describing the fragile political and security situation and the contradiction of world leaders coming to mark the Holocaust while Israel is carrying one out against the Palestinian people. I was not calling for violence and I do not wish for a violent incident to take place.”
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.