Netanyahu said to tell cabinet Israel preparing for Gaza offensive

Israel concerned that the Palestinian Authority will completely cut off funds from the Hamas-ruled Strip, severely exacerbating humanitarian conditions and sparking more violence

Israeli soldiers seen on tanks at an IDF staging area near the Israeli border with Gaza, on July 31, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers seen on tanks at an IDF staging area near the Israeli border with Gaza, on July 31, 2014. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned ministers Sunday that Israel is preparing for the possibility of a military campaign in the Gaza Strip should the humanitarian conditions in the territory cause border clashes to spiral out of control, Hadashot news reported.

Netanyahu spoke of the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to “choke” Gaza during the weekly cabinet meeting, according to the TV report, and said: “If the reality of civil distress in Gaza is diminished, that is desirable, but that is not certain to happen, and so we are preparing militarily — that is not an empty statement.”

Angered by the reported funneling by Qatar of aid to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was said on Saturday to be planning on cutting the flow of funds to the Hamas-run coastal enclave.

Senior defense officials told Hadashot news that Abbas was particularly frustrated with UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Nikolay Mladenov, who facilitated the transfer despite the PA president’s staunch objections.

The halt of some $96 million that the PA sends monthly to the Gaza Strip could drive a desperate and cash-strapped Hamas toward conflict with Israel, security officials told the news channel. Moreover, they expressed concern that the violence may expand into the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on October 7, 2018 (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL Yedioth Ahronoth)

The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that Abbas had a tense phone call with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in which the latter warned Abbas that additional measures against the Gaza Strip would endanger the security of Egypt, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula.

Abbas was said to have responded defiantly by saying, “It is the establishment of a Muslim Brotherhood state in Gaza that is endangering the national security of Egypt not me and my policies,” in a reference to Hamas.

Egyptian trucks carrying fuel enter Gaza’s power plant in Nusseirat, in the central Gaza Strip, Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Earlier Saturday, the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported that Qatar has begun funneling funds to the Gaza Strip via Israel with US and UN approval, bypassing the opposition of the Palestinian Authority.

It said Israel, through the UN, had received Qatari funds for six months of increased fuel to Gaza’s only power plant — which will allow more hours of electricity to the beleaguered Strip — despite the PA’s efforts to thwart the action.

The Lebanese daily also reported that the UN would provide funds to pay three months of salaries to Gaza’s civil servants, and that Israel had agreed in principle to provide permits to 5,000 Gazan merchants to enter its territory for business purposes.

The Haaretz daily reported Thursday that Qatar had agreed to purchase fuel for Gaza under a UN-brokered deal seeking to mitigate the severe energy crisis gripping the Palestinian enclave.

The majority of households in Gaza receive an average of three to four hours of electricity a day. The new funds would double that amount to around eight hours a day.

Israel hopes that alleviating one of Gaza’s worst electricity shortages in recent years will diminish the chances of full-blown military confrontation in the Strip, Haaretz said.

Activists escort a boat carrying Palestinians injured during clashes along the Gaza security fence as it tries to break through Israel’s naval blockade from the Gaza City harbor on July 10, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Abbas has contended that the PA should not be held financially responsible for the Gaza Strip where Hamas is in charge. He has, in the past, shown interest in reconciling with the terror group and returning PA rule to the coastal enclave. However, Abbas has refused to do so unless Hamas disarms — a condition that the Islamist group has shown no interest in accepting.

But a number of Arab governments have objected to Abbas’s desire to choke off Hamas in Gaza, concluding that such a measure would lead to a spike in violence.

In addition to Qatar, Egypt has also acted to continue a flow of funds to the coastal enclave in efforts that have increasingly frustrated Abbas.

Palestinian protesters demonstrate in tear gas smokes at the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip on October 3, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Also on Saturday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered Gaza’s fishing zones constrained due to the escalation of border violence along the southern frontier.

The fishing zone will be curtailed from nine to six nautical miles, the Defense Ministry said, following deliberations between Liberman and defense officials.

Hours prior, the IDF conducted controlled detonations of explosive devices hurled at army troops during the previous day’s violent protests.

Three Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were reported killed and dozens injured as some 20,000 Palestinians took part in violent clashes Friday along the Gaza border, throwing hand grenades and trying to breach the barrier.

In this photo from May 1, 2017, Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends a news conference in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

During the riots, the army said Israeli aircraft struck two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip after Palestinians threw grenades and explosive devices at Israeli troops.

The large-scale protests came as Israel signaled it was rapidly losing patience and willing to go to war to stop the violence, while Gaza’s Hamas rulers vowed to push on with the confrontations.

Palestinian paramedics carry an injured man as protesters demonstrate at the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip on October 3, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have increased dramatically in recent weeks. They began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as Hamas entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.

As these talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.

Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.

A Palestinian protester throws back a tear gas canister as people demonstrate at the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip on October 3, 2018. (AFP / SAID KHATIB)

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has worsened steadily, and Hamas’s reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down.

The clashes along the border, which Israel maintains are being directed by Hamas, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, and attempts to breach the border fence.

Gazans have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.

At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.

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