Netanyahu warns Hamas: Don’t count on elections preventing major Gaza operation

Amid flareup, PM says Israel holds rulers of the Strip responsible for all attacks emanating from there

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, March 10, 2019. (GALI TIBBON/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, March 10, 2019. (GALI TIBBON/AFP)

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip should not assume that Israel won’t respond to their recent attacks with a major military operation in the territory just because of approaching elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, warning that the country will do whatever is necessary to restore security to southern communities.

Netanyahu’s remarks came hours after air force jets bombed Hamas targets in Gaza in the latest tit-for-tat fighting that has set the restive border region on edge. There was no immediate word on casualties from the strikes, which came after Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired a mortar shell at the Eshkol region of southern Israel on Saturday night.

“We have recently seen provocations and heads being raised from the direction of the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said at the start to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “This has been done by dissidents, but this does not absolve Hamas. Hamas is responsible for everything that comes out of the Gaza Strip, and we respond accordingly, with assaults by Air Force planes against Hamas targets.

“I heard people from Gaza saying that since we are in an election campaign a wide-ranging operation is out of the question,” he continued. “I suggest to Hamas – don’t count on it. We will do everything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”

Israel’s national elections for the Knesset are scheduled for April 9.

The army said the early-morning strikes were in response to the mortar attack, as well as “continuing terror activities from the Strip, including balloon explosives and causing harm to security infrastructure in the last several days.”

The Saturday mortar was the third to be fired at Israel since Wednesday, as tensions between the sides continued to simmer. Gazans have also launched balloon-borne bombs at Israel and fired small arms across the border, along with near-daily protests at the fence, in which fire bombs are thrown at troops and Palestinians attempt to damage the barriers, according to the army.

Israel has carried out perfunctory air raids after each balloon or mortar attack, usually hitting empty military posts maintained by the Hamas terror group, which is the de facto ruler in the Strip.

The uptick of violence comes after several months of relative calm thanks to a hard-won ceasefire brokered by Egypt.

Egypt and other mediators have been working intensively in recent weeks to broker a new ceasefire agreement between the two sides, but thus far to no avail.

On Thursday Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel would respond harshly to any further violence emanating from the Strip.

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