A senior member of Hamas’s political bureau threatened Israel on Monday with an “explosion” of violence should Israel not ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Gaza is suffering from high unemployment, a severe housing shortage and, according to the UN and other organizations, the collapse of its water, sewage and electrical infrastructure.
“If Israel does not take apart its siege of Gaza, then an explosion is coming,” said Fathi Hamad, during a rally outside the UN headquarters in the Strip.
Hamas is a terror group that seeks the destruction of Israel and has fought three major rounds of conflict against it since seizing Gaza in 2007. Over the years, it has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, tunneled under the border to carry out attacks, and orchestrated suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
Hamad yelled the slogan, “Take apart the siege or [expect] an explosion,” which was repeated by participants in the rally, according to a recording of his remarks published on Hamas’s Al Aqsa Voice news site.
“The features of this explosion have already begun to appear in a number of places,” added Hamad, without specifying. “The explosion of the people in the West Bank and Gaza will encompass everyone who besieges us and stands in our way.”
Israel has seen an uptick in rocket attacks from Gaza over the past month. Most of those attacks are believed to have been the work of small Islamic State-sympathizing groups, rather than Hamas.
The Israeli Shin Bet security service arrested two Palestinian men in the West Bank suspected of planning to carry several attacks on behalf of Hamas, the agency announced on Sunday.
Hamad specifically criticized what he said were Israeli policies geared to prevent the rebuilding of Gaza in the wake of a devastating Israel-Hamas war in the summer of 2014, as well severe travel restrictions on Gazans imposed by the Jewish state .
He also said Gazans would no longer accept living without an airport or seaport.
Israel says its blockade is essential to prevent terrorists from obtaining materials to fortify military positions, dig tunnels and build rockets to fire at the Jewish state.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. Repeated reconciliation attempts between Gaza and West Bank governments have failed.
The Israeli army has said it will ease its restrictions on the embattled enclave should Hamas cease calling for its destruction, and using imported materials to build up its arsenal.
Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said on Friday he is pushing forward with a proposal to build an artificial island with a seaport and possibly an airport off the coast of Gaza that he believes will alleviate hardship in the blockaded territory and offer residents their first real bridge to the outside world in a decade.
Hamad is known as one of the most radical figures in Hamas today. He is suspected of a string of bombings near the houses of operative from the rival Fatah movement, and is thought to be in contact with Salafi organizations and Islamic State fighters in the Sinai Peninsula.
He is considered one of the most powerful Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip, and often operates independently of the organization’s political branch.
In September, 2016, the United States added Hamad to its “global terrorist” list.
Agencies contributed to this report.