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August 26, 2016 4:22 am

Israeli Defense Minister: We Won’t Allow Hamas to Arm Itself

avatar by Lilach Shoval, Efrat Forsher and Israel Hayom staff /

Defense Minister Avigdor Leiberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announcing their coalition agreement. Photo: Facebook/Screenshot.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Facebook/Screenshot. – A day after the Israel Defense Forces bombed a number of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket attack on the southern Israeli town of Sderot, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that the Jewish state cannot allow the Hamas terror group to arm itself.

Lieberman’s caution comes just days after Hamas threatened to abduct Israeli soldiers on Sunday, showcasing two “prison cells” built especially for future Israeli captives.

“We can’t be expected to allow [Hamas] to rob the residents of Gaza,” Lieberman said. “They charge taxes and instead of building buildings, they built tunnels.”

Speaking during a tour of the northern border, Lieberman said that Hamas knows whenever it faces economic difficulties, Israel, the United Nations, or the European Union will swoop in with aid.

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“They’re not interested in solving their own crisis; they just want to build up military power,” he said. “Seventy percent of their tax revenue goes to building up military power and re-arming. They don’t want to take care of the citizens, they only want rockets and tunnels.”

Following Israel’s forceful response to the single rocket that landed in Sderot, there have been no further incidents. Senior Israeli military officials said after the retaliatory strike of dozens of targets across Gaza that Israel was not planning on escalating the tension.

This is despite the fact that, on Sunday, Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, held a rally in Rafah honoring three senior operatives — Muhammad Abu Shamalah, Raed al-Attar, and Muhammad Barhoum — killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Hundreds of armed Hamas terrorists participated in the rally, during which weapons, rockets, and the jail cells were displayed. Both of the cells contain Hebrew writing, indicating they are intended “for enemy prisoners.”

“The siege will not prevent our brigades from developing their abilities,” Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida remarked, referring to a blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel. “It [the siege] will not help the current calm continue. Whoever awakens our wrath will unleash a volcano.”

The brigades and the resistance are prepared to protect the Palestinian people, and “we will continue our struggle [against Israel] until we are victorious,” he said.

He reiterated the brigade’s solidarity with “soldiers of the resistance,” families of terrorists, Jerusalem, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The rocket fired at Sderot from Gaza was the second such incident since Lieberman assumed his defense minister post in May.

Following the IAF’s response to Monday’s launched rocket, and assuming that Hamas decides to maintain restraint, the latest clash appears to be over. But a top Israeli military official declared that the “equation with Gaza has changed.”

The timing of the Israeli response appears to suggest that the IDF seized an opportunity to target key Hamas assets. The political echelon stressed that the forceful retaliation was designed to send a clear message that Israel would no longer be as forgiving as it has been in the past. A source said on Monday, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy is to prevent a drizzle of rocket fire.”

Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar confirmed that the organization “remains committed to the truce agreement with the Israeli occupation, as long as they halt the strikes in Gaza.” However, he stressed that if the Israeli strikes continue, Hamas’ response will be decisive and forceful.

“The Israeli occupation has openly signaled that it is not interested in escalation and concluded the confrontation,” al-Zahar said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri echoed al-Zahar’s remarks, but added, “the Zionist occupation will not succeed in imposing new policies on the resistance.”

The Salafi organization Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, affiliated with the Islamic State group in Gaza, also issued a statement saying, “Just as the children of Gaza are suffering, so will the children of Sderot suffer.”

The group warned that the rocket fire into Israel’s south will continue, declaring it was not “Hamas’ puppet.”

Israel’s response to Sunday’s rocket appears to indicate that future rocket attacks, even if not perpetrated by Hamas, will not be met with the standard pattern of small-scale retaliations.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank on Monday night, Israeli security forces raided seven illegal Palestinian weapons mills in the Hebron and Bethlehem area in the largest crackdown of its kind over the last year.

The raids were carried out by five IDF battalions, the military’s Judea and Samaria Division, the Shin Bet security agency, and the Judea and Samaria District Police in an effort to root out illegal weapons production and trading.

IDF and Border Police troops found 22 lathes in seven separate weapons factories. Dozens of firearms, weapons parts, and cartridges were also uncovered in the operation. The lathes and weapons found were seized by security forces.

Two suspects were arrested in connection to production and trade of weapons. One of the suspects is believed to be a top weapons dealer in the area. He is currently being held by the Shin Bet for questioning.

Some of the guns discovered in the raid were foreign models, while others were made in the increasingly sophisticated local weapons mills. Along with the firearms, security forces found stolen bullets, knives, handcuffs, nunchucks, flak jackets, and American army uniforms, according to Israeli media reports.

Riots erupted during the raid but no one was injured, according to the reports.

Since early 2016, the IDF and Shin Bet have uncovered 29 weapons factories, 49 lathes, and 300 firearms in Judea and Samaria. More than 30 Palestinian terrorist attacks using firearms have been carried out against Israelis since the beginning of this year. More than 30 percent of the terrorists came from the Gush Etzion or Hebron regions. Since January, security forces have arrested more than 140 people suspected of producing and trading weapons.

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