Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid on Friday called on the Israeli government to destroy the homes of the leaders of the Hamas terrorist movement in the Gaza Strip, declaring that the group’s top brass must pay a price for ongoing attacks against the Jewish state.
Speaking during an interview with Hadashot TV, Lapid, whose party currently sits in the opposition, said he does not believe Israel should necessarily embark on a full-scale military operation in the Strip, but stressed that the Hamas leadership should be made to understand that attacks on the Jewish state would have severe consequences.
“Nobody wants war, but even those who want a [negotiated] armistice have to understand that if there is no real deterrence, armistice is not worth anything,” he said. “If we go to an arrangement where Hamas thinks that it wont pay a heavy price for bombing Israel’s population, or for the [incendiary] balloons, or the violations along the [Gaza security] fence, then the armistice is worth nothing.”
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
On Friday, more than 100 Palestinians were reported wounded in violent clashes as thousands of demonstrators protested close to the fence, burning tires and throwing rocks at Israeli military positions along the Gaza border.
“I have been talking for a long time about the need to reinstate targeted assassinations [of Hamas leaders], on this issue I am right of the government,” Lapid told Hadashot. “I am in favor of an armistice, but there is no point if we do not restore the deterrence of the IDF and the defense establishment.”
Lapid added that he had “always been a security hawk,” including during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 when he was a member of the security cabinet. “I am in favor of use of force, certainly in such situations.”
The IDF on Friday said Palestinian protesters broke through the security fence along the Gaza border in three locations before immediately returning to the coastal enclave, with Israeli soldiers opening fire at the suspects in one case.
In addition, an IDF aircraft opened fire at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons at Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, the army said. There were no immediate reports of injuries from the airstrike.
The violence broke out despite one of the main organizers of the protests calling on participants on Thursday night to behave nonviolently in the demonstration, following a flareup between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group that threatened to spark all-out war.
According to reports, Egypt had warned Hamas that renewed protests would bring a heavy Israeli response.
Some 155 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures; Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border.
The Israeli military was on high alert Friday ahead of the clashes expected for the afternoon and evening, coming two days after a rocket with a 20-kilogram (44-pound) warhead exploded outside a house in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba early Wednesday morning, causing significant damage, but no injuries as the mother inside had rushed her children to their bomb shelter moments before.
A second rocket also landed in the sea, off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area, known in Israel as Gush Dan.
In response, the Israeli Air Force conducted strikes against some 20 targets in the Gaza Strip, including a border-crossing attack tunnel that entered Israeli territory from the Palestinian city of Khan Younis.
On Thursday, Israel’s top-level security cabinet instructed the army to take a wait-and-see approach to allow mediation efforts to succeed, but also ordered the military to step up reprisal attacks should there be border violence.
Ministers said the IDF should ultimately adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward rocket attacks, arson balloons and rioting along the Israeli border, according to reports in Hebrew-language media.
The army may also look to tamp down on border riots by entering areas where it previously stayed away from, according to Channel 10 news.
Israel has demanded an end to the weekly confrontations, as well as the frequent launches of incendiary balloons into Israeli territory.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, only the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad have access to the type of rockets fired on Wednesday morning.
The terror groups, however, denied responsibility for the launch, condemning those who carried it out as “irresponsible” and said they threatened to undermine an Egyptian-led effort to reach a negotiated armistice with Israel in exchange for certain economic incentives.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Thursday warned Israeli leaders not to make a mistake and misread their intentions, while ordering a probe into how a missile was launched from the Strip at Beersheba.
Experts have surmised a freak lightning strike may also be to blame for the launches, as a bolt was found to have struck near where the rockets were being stored.
Even prior to the rocket attack, tensions along the border had been rising, with a rising clamor of calls within Israel for military action to stop incessant balloon attacks and border riots.
Last Friday, some 14,000 Palestinians thronged to the perimeter fence, burning tires and throwing rocks, firebombs and grenades at soldiers on the other side.
Some 20 Palestinians breached the border during the riots, and seven Palestinians were killed, including four who the military said had entered Israel and approached a military position. Israel responded by cutting off Qatari-funded fuel shipments meant to ease a chronic electricity shortage.