Israel warns Gaza bus companies ahead of ‘March of Return’
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Hamas claims to arrest an Israeli agent

Israel warns Gaza bus companies ahead of ‘March of Return’

IDF general says Hamas is paying transport company owners to ‘persuade’ reluctant Gazans to attend protests along border

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Palestinian children ride bikes near the border with Israel on the outskirts of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, as they take part in a cycling race demanding a 'Right of Return' for millions to Israel on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)
Palestinian children ride bikes near the border with Israel on the outskirts of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, as they take part in a cycling race demanding a 'Right of Return' for millions to Israel on March 26, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Israel has warned owners of bus companies in the Gaza Strip not to ferry Palestinians to mass demonstrations that Hamas and other Palestinian groups are planning near the border with Israel on Friday.

Hamas said on Wednesday that several owners of bus companies had received the phone calls in the past few days 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.

Major-General Yoav Mordechai, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, confirmed that the IDF had warned owners of transportation companies not to assist Hamas in transferring Palestinians to the protests along the border with Israel.

In an interview on Wednesday with the US-based Arabic-language satellite TV channel Alhurra, Mordechai said, “We have contacted the owners of more than 20 bus companies in the Gaza Strip who received money from Hamas to drive the Palestinians to the violent demonstrations. We warned that measures would be taken against the owners and their companies.”

Mordechai said that Hamas had paid the owners to “persuade” Palestinians reluctant to participate in the protests along the border with Israel to go. He warned that the IDF would take “severe and harsh measures” against Palestinians who try to damage the security fence or cross the border into Israel.

The Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of the Government’s Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai. (Screenshot)

Asked if Israel was also considering measures against senior Hamas officials, Mordechai said, “We intend to do our utmost to prevent violent and terroristic demonstrations. These are demonstrations of anarchy, and not Land Day demonstrations.”

Organizers of the demonstrations, which are being held under the banner of “March of Return,” said on Wednesday that the Palestinians would  not be deterred by Israeli threats to prevent the protesters from crossing the border.

Khaled al Batsh, a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group and one of the managers of the protests, said that the “March of Return” would be “peaceful.”

The Palestinians, he said, “live under occupation and were expelled from their homes in 1948. Our people will practice their right to return as guaranteed by international laws.”

Hamas spokesperson Ismail Radwan said that the planned protests were aimed at sending a message to the effect that the Palestinians are determined to “achieve the right of return.”

He warned Israel not to commit any “idiotic act” against the Palestinians participating in the protests. The Palestinians, he vowed, will respond to any “idiocy” committed against the participants.

Both al Batsh and Radwan claimed that Israel was in a “state of panic” because of the “March of Return.” The Palestinians, they said, were not deterred by the Israeli threats and pressure.

Palestinian Hamas fighters take part in a military maneuver in Gaza City on March 25, 2018. (AFP/ Mahmud Hams)

In a related development, Hamas has arrested a Palestinian in the Gaza Strip who had been recruited by Israel to thwart the planned protests, a source close to the terror group said on Wednesday.

The source said that the 37-year-old taxi driver, whose identity was not disclosed, was arrested during Hamas’s military exercise in the Gaza Strip last Sunday and Monday.

The Palestinian “collaborator” was caught while spying on the members of Hamas’s military wing, Izaddin al Qassam, during the drill, the source said.

The alleged informant reportedly confessed during interrogation that he had been asked by his Israeli handlers to “incite against the March of Return and spread rumors to scare Palestinians and stop them from taking part in the marches.” The man, according to the Hamas-affiliated al Majd website, also confessed that he had been recruited by Israel back in 2011 to collect information about Hamas’s military activities and weapons.

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