Israel said to warn Hamas that attacks from Gaza risk wide-scale military action

Egyptian officials reportedly convey message from Jerusalem telling the terror group not to try to intervene in Israel’s election campaign

Palestinians holding Palestinian flags walk past burning tires during clashes near the security fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 22, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinians holding Palestinian flags walk past burning tires during clashes near the security fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 22, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Egyptian officials have reportedly sent Hamas a message from Israel that warned the terror group it is playing with fire by instigating a near-constant stream of attacks from Gaza during the Israeli election campaign.

The warning, reported in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper, comes amid rising tensions along the Israel-Gaza border after balloons carried several explosive devices from Gaza into Israeli towns on Tuesday and Israeli jets launched retaliatory strikes against Hamas posts in the Strip.

An Egyptian delegation traveled to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to urge Hamas leaders to tamp down the attacks, warning that “creating tensions on the border by launching incendiary balloons will bring the IDF to launch a broad military confrontation in the Strip,” according to Al-Akhbar, which said it was citing a senior Hamas source.

The Egyptians also warned Hamas not to try to “intervene in the elections in Israel or try to influence them.”

Illustrative. An Israeli soldier stands near balloons released by Palestinian protesters from the Gaza Strip that landed inside Israel on October 19, 2018. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Abbas Kamel, the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Directorate, who has served as mediator between Israel and Hamas in the past, is due to visit the Strip in the coming days to up the pressure on Hamas to avoid escalation.

Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel attends a meeting of Egyptian and Sudanese foreign ministers and heads of intelligence at Tahrir Palace, in Cairo, Egypt, February 8, 2018. (Khaled Elfiqi/Pool photo via AP)

Hamas said in response that it was examining its own options for military escalation in response to the Israeli retaliatory strikes.

The Israel Air Force carried out airstrikes on several targets in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night, after balloons with explosives were flown into Israel earlier in the day.

The Israel Defense Forces said its aircraft hit “a number of terror targets in a Hamas military compound in the northern Gaza Strip.”

There were no immediate reports of casualties in the Strip.

The pro-Hamas al-Risala newspaper said an unmanned Israeli aircraft hit a site that belongs to “the Palestinian resistance” in Gaza.

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Earlier on Tuesday, two bombs tied to balloons were flown over the Gaza border and exploded inside communities in southern Israel. There were no injuries or damage. On Monday, three bombs exploded near communities and last week an explosive tied to a balloon damaged a home in the region.

Israel has carried out five rounds of strikes in the last four days in response to the balloons.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and a return of airborne arson attacks, which had waned in light of a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas at the end of last year.

In these nightly demonstrations, led by so-called “confusion units,” participants generally set off loud explosives, burn tires and throw rocks at Israeli troops on the other side of the security fence. The Israeli soldiers typically respond with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire.

The border riots are part of the March of Return protests, which call for the right of Palestinians displaced in the 1948 Independence War to return to their homes and for an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the enclave. The protests have taken place weekly along the border since last March and have periodically escalated into major flare-ups between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terror groups.

In a photo released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 26, 2019, soldiers take part in a snap drill at the Tzeelim base in southern Israel simulating a future military conflict in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has accused Hamas of orchestrating the clashes and using them as cover to breach the border fence and carry out attacks.

The latest riots came after the release last week of a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council on Israel’s handling of the clashes that alleged there is evidence Israeli soldiers committed war crimes. The inquiry investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through December 31.

Israeli leaders angrily rejected the findings of the UN probe, calling it “hostile, deceitful and biased.”

Judah Ari Gross and Agencies contributed to this report.

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