Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday morning issued a scathing warning to Palestinian terror group Hamas, suggesting Israel could be on the brink of a wide-scale military offensive if violent riots on the Israel-Gaza border fence do not halt.
Rising border tensions peaked on Friday amid heavy rioting on the fence separating Israel from Gaza. Seven Palestinians were killed, including three who breached the border fence and ran toward IDF soldiers during the chaotic unrest.
“Hamas hasn’t understood the message,” Netanyahu told ministers and reporters at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
“If they don’t stop the attacks they will be stopped in another way, which will be painful. Very painful,” he added, suggesting that Israel was on the brink of a full-blown military operation against Gaza’s rulers.
“We are very close to a different kind of activity that will include very powerful blows,” the premier threatened.
“If Hamas has any brains, it will stop.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, whose terror group seeks to destroy Israel, vowed Saturday that mass rallies would continue until the “siege on Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and all the lands of Palestine is lifted.”
On Saturday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman halted all fuel deliveries into the Gaza Strip in response to the violence, which has included near daily rioting on the border and the launching of incendiary devices into Israel.
“Until violence in the Gaza Strip stops entirely, including the launching of incendiary balloons and the burning of tires near Israeli communities, the supply of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip will not be renewed,” Liberman said.
Seven Palestinians were reported killed in intense clashes with Israeli security forces along the Gaza border Friday afternoon, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Gaza media outlets said at least 150 protesters were injured.
In the most serious incident, the army said assailants planted a bomb at the fence in the south of the Strip, blowing a hole in it. Some 20 Gazans then infiltrated the border and approached an IDF snipers’ post. Most turned back, but three who did not were shot and killed, the IDF said.
In recent days Qatari-bought fuel had begun entering the Strip to allow operation of its only power station, in a bid to alleviate conditions in the blockaded Palestinian enclave. Hundreds of liters of fuel have since passed into the territory.
Israel facilitated the delivery over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, hoping it would help ease months of protests and clashes.
Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in a 2007 near-civil war and multiple reconciliation attempts aimed at restoring the PA to power in Gaza have failed.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas says that making deals with Hamas amounts to recognizing its control over Gaza in place of the PA and has sought to block the fuel deliveries. He has reportedly threatened to cut off funds to Gaza in response to the fuel transfers.
Israel fears further deterioration in Gaza could lead to another round of war on the southern border.
Both Israel and Egypt enforce 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.
Agencies contributed to this report.