Israel Says Hamas Curbed Gaza Riots After Egyptian Warning
Palestinian riots on the Israel-Gaza Strip border have dropped off dramatically, with Israel on Wednesday pointing to what it said were Egyptian efforts to restore calm after dozens of Palestinians were killed.
However, Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group, denying any pressure from neighboring Egypt to scale back the six-week-old riots, said they would continue, even as far smaller numbers of Palestinians gathered in protest tents near the border.
According to medics in Gaza, two Palestinians were shot dead during Tuesday’s riots along the 51-kilometer (32 mile) border. On Monday, 60 rioters were killed, as the US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem.
Pushing back against foreign censure of its army’s actions, Israel has — with Washington’s backing — accused Hamas of using civilians as cover for attacks across the border fence and to distract from Gaza’s internal problems.
Angered by the US embassy move and the Gaza bloodshed, Turkey expelled Israel‘s ambassador and consul to Istanbul, Ankara said on Wednesday. Israel responded to its envoy’s expulsion on Tuesday by expelling Turkey’s Jerusalem consul.
Gaza analyst Akram Attallah, pointing to the smaller number of protesters since Monday’s deaths, said: “I can see there is a retreat because of the Israeli bloody response … but Friday will represent an indicator to where things are going.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh made a brief visit on Sunday to Egypt.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz said an Egyptian intelligence chief, whom he did not name, warned Haniyeh that Cairo “knows and has proof” that Hamas was funding the riots and sending people to the border fence to serve “as living ammunition, women and children instead of shells and rockets”.
The Egyptian official “made unequivocally clear to him (Haniyeh) that if this continues, Israel will respond and take far harsher steps, and Egypt will stand by and will not help,” Katz told Israel Radio in an interview.
“Haniyeh returned to Gaza, Hamas gave an order … and miraculously, this spontaneous protest by a public that could not handle the situation any more dissipated,” Katz said.
There was no immediate response from Egypt to Katz’s statements, which Hamas dismissed as false.
“There is no mediation. The marches will continue until our people achieve their goals,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
At a news conference at a protest encampment on Wednesday, Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, urged people to take part in mass rallies on Friday.
But the start on Thursday of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, could limit the scale of the demonstrations.
In a statement issued at the news conference, the factions said the fasting would be taken into account. They said marches would continue through early June.
Organizers claim the Gaza protests are civilian actions, noting the absence of Israeli casualties compared to 107 Palestinian dead and thousands of wounded. Israel disputes this: Fourteen of those killed on Tuesday were shot while firing on Israeli troops or trying to blow up the fence, the IDF said.
In Jerusalem, following the US lead, Guatemala opened its embassy in the city on Wednesday. Paraguay is slated to do the same next week.