Israel has reportedly warned Hamas that it will resume assassinations of the terror group’s leaders if Hamas continues to organize clashes on the Gaza border. The terror group, meanwhile, vowed revenge after Monday’s deadly riots.
“If the protests continue, the assassinations will return,” Hadashot TV news quoted security officials as saying in a message sent to Hamas via Egypt.
The reported warning came as Hamas escalated its own threats of violence.
“We say clearly today to all the world that the peaceful march of our people lured the enemy into shedding more blood,” said Khalil al-Hayya, a senior leader in Hamas.
He added that Hamas’s armed wing and other terror groups “will not prolong their silence over the crimes of the occupation.”
The threat came after the bloodiest day yet of the weeks-long violent “March of Return” protest against Israel — and the deadliest day in the Strip since the 2014 war — with Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry saying 52 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,000 wounded in the violence.
Citing Hamas sources, Hadashot TV news said 10 of the terror group’s members were killed in the clashes, including a son of its co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.
The Israel Defense Forces called the clashes “unprecedented,” compared to past weeks.
“This is unprecedented in terms of the level of violence, compared to previous weeks,” said spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, citing three attempted attacks by armed men against Israeli forces during the riots as the main proof of the riots’ ferocity.
Amid international criticism over the army’s handling of the clashes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel “will continue to act with determination to defend our sovereignty and our citizens.”
“Every country has the obligation to protect its borders. The Hamas terrorist organization declares its intentions to destroy Israel and sends thousands to break through the border fence for that purpose,” he said, ahead of an emergency meeting of the security cabinet on Gaza Monday night.
However, despite the fierceness of the clashes, the IDF spokesperson, Manelis, said Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, appeared to have failed to bring out protesters in sufficient numbers to be considered a political victory.
Hamas, and the IDF, anticipated that over 100,000 people would participate in Monday’s demonstrations along the border fence. But ultimately, the army calculated that 40,000 people took part, though Manelis acknowledged the final tally may be higher.
Manelis said Hamas attempted to convince and pressure Palestinians to come to the border protests, tried to bribe them by offering “$100 per family that comes,” and threatened people by accusing them of being “collaborators” if they did not attend the protests.
Despite those efforts, Manelis said, “Hamas failed.”
Military officials said they were prepared for the protests to last into the night. Soldiers on the border, for instance, were outfitted with night-vision equipment, and the military was ready to use flares to illuminate the area.
However, as of 6:30 p.m., it appeared that the protesters were clearing the border area for the night, and, according to unconfirmed reports, the organizers were calling the demonstrators away from the border.
Manelis said the IDF was expecting protests to continue on Tuesday and potentially for several additional days.
In response to the three attacks, the Israeli army destroyed a number of Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip. Fighter jets also destroyed five Hamas targets in the northern Gaza Strip, and Israeli tanks and aircraft struck two more, the army said.
Additionally, according to the IDF, protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops on the other side of the border fence. Demonstrators launched dozens of so-called “terror kites” — kites laden with containers of burning fuel — into Israeli territory, sparking brush fires in open fields and farm lands across the region.
Manelis said that there were also multiple attempts to rush the border — none of them successful — and that the army has intelligence indicating Hamas and other terrorist groups have plans to try to kidnap or kill Israeli soldiers serving on the fence. The IDF’s spokesman said Hamas deployed 12 separate terrorist “cells” to try to breach the border at different locations, and that all were rebuffed.
The protests came as part of the weeks-long March of Return coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding, which the Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or “catastrophe.” Monday’s protests were also timed to coincide with the opening ceremony for the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.