Senior minister warns latest flare-up could lead to new Gaza war
'It certainly looks like it's going to a very bad place'

Senior minister warns latest flare-up could lead to new Gaza war

In the case of an all-out confrontation, Hamas will suffer a blow that will end its rule over the coastal enclave, says Yuval Steinitz

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israeli forces on June 18, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israeli forces on June 18, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

An Israeli security cabinet member on Wednesday said Israel was possibly on the way to a war with Gaza that would be the “end” for the Hamas terror group’s rule over the Strip, and blamed “foreign parties” such as the Palestinian Authority and Iran for the latest escalation of tensions in Israel’s south.

“We can’t know how it ends, when it ends, but it looks like we are on the way to an escalation,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Hadashot news channel, after Palestinians fired at least 45 rockets at Israel overnight and the IDF struck dozens of targets in the coastal enclave.

Referring to the last war in Gaza, in the summer of 2014, Steinitz said the current flare-up could “reach the levels of [Operation] Protective Edge number two, and I believe it will be different. I think this time it will be the end of the story for Hamas’s rule over Gaza. We don’t want to go there, but it certainly looks like it’s going to a very bad place.”

Asked if his words were a message to Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar that it would be the end of the terror group, Steinitz answered: “I think that should be our goal if we are again forced into an all-out confrontation in Gaza.”

That comment was echoed Wednesday by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who said: “I have no doubt what the final outcome will be. And on what happened yesterday I only have four words to tell Hamas: That was a mistake.”

“There are two foreign parties trying to ignite fire in Gaza, without considering the terrible suffering that will be caused to 1.8 million Gazans,” Steinitz charged, pointing the finger firstly at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, “who is deliberately exacerbating the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and isn’t transferring money so that there is less money for food and medicine.”

“He also tried to reduce the amount of electricity we provide Gaza, to increase the distress and create tension with Israel,” Steinitz said of Abbas.

Gaza’s woes have been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting off payments for electricity supplies to the enclave. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and attempts at reconciliation with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority have failed.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, October 29, 2017. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Flash90)

“The other party is the Iranians, of course,” Steinitz continued, “who have supported the Islamic Jihad [terror group] but have renewed their support of Hamas.”

“They may be under the false impression that if we are forced to operate in Gaza, we will pay less attention to preventing their entrenchment in Syria,” he threatened.

Earlier Wednesday, the IDF declared it was “prepared for an all-out confrontation in Gaza if Hamas continues to introduce new game rules,” following a security briefing with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of land in southern Israel. Three fires were reported in Israeli communities close to the Gaza border on Wednesday.

A masked Palestinian prepares a balloon that will be attached to flammable materials to be launched into Israel near the Israeli Gaza border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Around midnight on Tuesday, Israeli jets bombed three Hamas positions in the Strip in response to numerous airborne arson attacks by Gazans earlier in the day.

Minutes later, Palestinians in the Strip launched the first of many rocket and mortar barrages at southern Israel, triggering sirens throughout the area and sending thousands into bomb shelters.

Over the course of the next four hours, some 45 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel, with at least six exploding inside communities, causing damage but no injuries.

On Wednesday morning, Gadi Yarkoni, the head of the Eshkol region, praised the IDF for carrying out airstrikes in response to the arson attacks.

“Eshkol residents had a sleepless night last night,” Yarkoni said. “We support the IDF for its response to the terror kites, which harm our way of life. And we expect the IDF to continue working to bring back calm to the region, with no more rockets launched at our communities and homes, and no more fires in our fields.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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