Hamas Conveys Indirect Message to Israel: We Might Tone Down Gaza Protests

Israel warned Hamas on Monday that it might strike senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip if protests continue. 59 Palestinians killed in Monday's clashes

A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip, May 14, 2018
SAID KHATIB/AFP

Hamas has conveyed indirect messages to Israel that it might change tack in the Gaza border protests Tuesday, but Israel isn't certain whether the group really aims to rein in the violent demonstrations in which the Israeli army killed 59 Gazans on Monday.

Israel warned Hamas on Monday that it might strike senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip if the violent protests along the border continued. On Monday, 59 Palestinians were killed in the clashes, the Gaza Health Ministry said, with more than 1,000 people wounded by live fire.

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Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman approved the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing for the transportation of goods on Tuesday, a step recommended by the military in light of international criticism of Gaza's lack of basic goods, including medical equipment in hospitals.

According to military sources, at least 12 of the Palestinians killed Monday were members of armed squads who were shot trying to breach the fence via explosive devices in two different incidents.

So far, all attempts to breach the fence have failed. In the afternoon, the Israel Air Force bombed a Hamas training base in northern Gaza. The military threatened to continue assaults on Hamas military sites if the violence continued Tuesday.

Hamas is gearing up for another day of mass violent protests, Nakba Day, marking the Palestinians’ “catastrophe” in the establishment of Israel. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority announced a three-day mourning period for the dead in Gaza. There were demonstrations Monday in the West Bank, but only a few thousand protesters took part and violence during clashes with Israeli troops was limited.

The army will continue to beef up its forces at least until the weekend. Regular training has been suspended due to the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. The army braced for the possibility that Hamas and Islamic Jihad might respond to the Gaza deaths by firing rockets or mortar shells at Israel overnight, though no launches occured.

Senior Southern Command officers met Monday evening with representatives of the Israeli border communities; they decided that for now, civilian life would continue unchanged. Still, the army and police remain on alert along the fence.

The army says it believes the Palestinians intended to breach the fence Monday and that gunfire on protesters heading for the barrier prevented an incursion. A senior officer in the Southern Command ordered that all live-fire incidents in which protesters are killed be investigated — also by the military advocate general.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have called a general strike for Tuesday in both Gaza and the West Bank.

At the start of a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah on Monday night, President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian people would continue a nonviolent struggle until a Palestinian state was established. He said the leaders would discuss proposals regarding ties with Israel and the United States, and would turn to international institutions including the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Abbas called the U.S. Embassy, which moved Monday to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a new settlement in Jerusalem.

The committee organizing the protest marches, called the March of Return, said demonstrations would also continue at West Bank checkpoints and other points of friction. The committee called on the Palestinians to come out and demonstrate en masse.

A senior Hamas official, Khalil al-Hayya, said the Palestinian people’s protest Monday was more determined than before. Hayya called on the Arab world and Islamic countries to stop any normalization with Israel.

In Israel, the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee met late Monday to discuss this week’s events. Before the meeting, a number of protest rallies were held in Israeli cities with a large Arab community including Nazareth, Sakhnin, Haifa and Jaffa.

The March of Return organizing committee said the conduct of Israeli troops toward the protesters had no explanation other than a desire for bloodshed and escalation. A committee member told Haaretz that the fact the dead were all on the Gaza side of the fence showed that the Israelis were trigger-happy.

“Anyone with a conscience who sees the Palestinians as human beings can’t remain indifferent to these scenes and with the cruelty with which the Israelis are carrying out this massacre,” he said. “There’s no other word to describe it.”

A senior Islamic Jihad official, Daoud Shihab, who is also a member of the protest organizing committee, told the Ashams radio station in Nazareth that Israel’s conduct was designed to make the armed Palestinian units respond and trigger a full-scale military clash.

“Under these circumstances, Tel Aviv won’t sleep quietly either, but we’re still holding fast to the popular and nonviolent struggle,” he said.