ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Senior Hamas official says Gaza should keep quiet to boost West Bank ‘resistance’

In leaked tape, terror group’s West Bank chief says strategy, as Ramadan approaches, is to keep ongoing tensions in territory high to deal Israel a ‘strategic blow’

File: Palestinians hurl rocks at an Israeli army bulldozer, during clashes in the West Bank city of Jenin, January 26, 2023. (Zain Jaafar/AFP)
File: Palestinians hurl rocks at an Israeli army bulldozer, during clashes in the West Bank city of Jenin, January 26, 2023. (Zain Jaafar/AFP)

As Israel’s security establishment was gearing up for the sensitive Ramadan period, Hamas’s West Bank leader said that the group wants terror activities to be restrained in Gaza for the time being to escalate violence in the West Bank, in a leaked recording aired by Hebrew media on Sunday.

Saleh al-Arouri, a founding commander of Hamas’s military wing, said that the “resistance” in the West Bank “needs restraint” in Gaza “if we are talking strategically and in terms of [the] proper management of the campaign,” he said in the recording aired by the Kan public broadcaster, in reference to the Ramadan period.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan has historically added an extra layer of tension between Israelis and Palestinians and has often been a period of increased violence and flare-ups, particularly in Jerusalem’s Old City, with its flashpoint holy sites. In 2021, events in Jerusalem surrounding the Temple Mount and looming evictions of Palestinian families from the capital’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood snowballed into an 11-day war between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip. Following weeks of tensions, Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem, which became the opening salvo of the conflict.

Al-Arouri said Hamas has an interest in keeping ongoing tensions high in the West Bank, while “Gaza should govern itself” and wait for the opportune moment. He said calls to escalate the conflict from within the coastal enclave were well-intentioned but “exaggerated,” and that the group needed to act strategically.

“In order for the enemy to not be at peace when the resistance in the West Bank escalates, it may be that it will get to a situation in which Gaza can’t continue to be silent to the enemy. If the resistance in the West Bank escalates and gets to a certain level, the violence will likely expand to all of Palestine and outside of it,” he added.

“The future of resistance in the West Bank is likely to lead to broad regional violence with the Zionist enemy, and God willing, will create here, for the first time, an opportunity to land a great strategic blow,” al-Arouri said.

Violent incidents and escalations in the West Bank have repeatedly led to rocket fire and confrontations with terror groups in Gaza. In August, the arrest of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s leader in the West Bank city of Jenin led to a 66-hour conflict between Israel and PIJ, including rocket fire, but Hamas stayed out of the round of fighting.

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high for the past year, with the Israeli military conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks. Those tensions have ramped up even further in recent weeks, which saw a cycle of deadly Israeli raids and Palestinian attacks, as well as an uptick in settler violence.

Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank in recent months have left 14 Israelis dead and several more seriously hurt. In 2022, at least 31 people were killed in Palestinian terror attacks.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 85 Palestinians have been killed, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, though some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, August 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)

Earlier Sunday, Israeli and Palestinian Authority delegations met for a relatively rare, albeit low-stakes regional summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where they recommitted to de-escalating tensions days before the start of Ramadan.

The forum was a follow-up to a similar gathering held in Aqaba, Jordan last month — the first such high-level confab of Israeli and Palestinian leaders in years. The sides have also agreed to meet for a third time next month.

The Sharm el-Sheikh summit, like the one in Aqaba, was marred by a terror attack that unfolded in the Palestinian town of Huwara. Sunday’s shooting on an Israeli-owned vehicle traveling through the northern West Bank town left an Israeli-American national, a former US Marine, seriously injured.

The attack came exactly three weeks after two Israeli brothers were shot dead in a terror attack while driving through Huwara. In the wake of that attack, settlers staged a riot in the town, setting fire to homes and cars. One Palestinian was shot dead in unclear circumstances.

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