Netanyahu on visit to Gaza border: Hamas ‘fully understands’ Israel’s messages

PM says terror group not a partner for dialogue, calls it a ‘theological junta,’ and says it is a far greater threat than before the ‘wretched, mistaken’ 2005 Gaza disengagement

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with soldiers during a visit to the IDF's Gaza Division on July 17, 2018, amid an increase in violence from the Gaza Strip. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with soldiers during a visit to the IDF's Gaza Division on July 17, 2018, amid an increase in violence from the Gaza Strip. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Palestinian terror group Hamas is a greater threat than in the past, but added that it “fully understands” the messages Israel sends to it.

“We are preparing for every scenario,” Netanyahu told local activists at a closed ceremony at the Sdot Negev regional council near the Gaza border.

“We are dealing with a theological junta that has taken control of two million people,” Netanyahu said, referring to Hamas, the terror group which controls the Strip and openly seeks Israel’s destruction.

“They numbered 3,000 people before the wretched, mistaken and tragic disengagement, while now they are 65,000 armed people,” he said, taking a jab at the 2005 evacuation by former premier Ariel Sharon of all Israeli settlements in Gaza, which also saw the Jewish state end its military presence in the Strip.

Hawkish Israelis have long argued that the Disengagement Plan harmed the country’s security by enabling Hamas to seize control of Gaza and fire thousands of rockets at Israeli communities.

“They are committed to our destruction and therefore are not partners for conversation in the diplomatic sense, but they fully understand our other messages and we won’t let them continue (with their violence),” the prime minister warned.

“We also won’t let them dream about carrying out their plan. The first thing I’m committed to is security,” he said, adding that he will allow “no rockets, no mortars and no [incendiary] balloons.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks on stage, at the Maariv conference in Jerusalem, October 15, 2018. (Screen capture)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said Tuesday evening that Israel would renew the supply of Qatari-purchased fuel into Gaza starting Wednesday, following relative calm this week along the border.

Israel reopened the crossings into Gaza on Sunday, allowing people and goods in and out of the coastal enclave. Liberman’s office said at the time that a decision was yet to be made whether to allow fuel into the Strip.

The past weekend saw a significant decrease in the amount of violence along the Gaza security fence compared to previous weeks, both in terms of the number of people participating in border riots and the intensity of the clashes.

Israeli defense officials described the demonstrations as some of the quietest since the wave of protests dubbed the “March of Return” began on March 30.

Israeli officials believe Hamas has changed its policies regarding the clashes and was working toward curbing violence at the rallies, which have become a near-daily occurrence, Hadashot TV news reported Friday.

Amid the relative calm, the cabinet has reportedly been briefed on an emerging UN- and Egyptian-mediated agreement for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, that would see Qatar pay for the Gaza Strip’s fuel, as well as fund the salaries of civil servants in the enclave.

The deal will see the cessation of violent protests on the Strip’s border with Israel. In turn, Israel will allow Qatari-funded fuel to return to Gaza and boost power supply, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported Monday.

Israeli soldiers taking position during clashes with Palestinian protesters across the Gaza border on October 19, 2018 in Nahal Oz. (Jack Guez/AFP)

While Israel believes such an accord would likely lead the Palestinian Authority to further cut funds to Gaza, it may retaliate by deducting any cuts from tax revenues it transfers annually to the PA.

Kan noted that ministers are aware the deal would boost Qatar’s regional influence while providing Hamas with a significant diplomatic achievement as it circumvents the PA while coordinating with the UN.

Egypt, alongside United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Nikolay Mladenov, has recently played a key role in attempts to mediate a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots that 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.

Some 157 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, which 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 earlier this year.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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