TEL AVIV – Hamas has defied an Egyptian demand to cease the violent weekly riots on the Gaza-Israel border, Palestinian sources said on Saturday.
Egyptian intelligence officials met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City last Thursday and also instructed him to tell rioters to keep a distance of at least 500 meters from the Israeli border, but Haniyeh refused, according to a report in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.
However, Friday’s riot was far more subdued than in previous weeks, which threatened to usher in a renewed round of conflict in Gaza.
“The Egyptians made it clear to Hamas that Israel was this time more serious than ever and would use unprecedented force if the violence continues along the border,” said a Palestinian political analyst in the Gaza Strip. “Apparently, Hamas issued instructions to its supporters to keep a low profile.”
Taher a-Nunu, a senior Hamas official in the coastal enclave, also said the weekly riots would continue, but in a “peaceful and popular” capacity. Nunu denied that Egypt had asked Hamas to halt the riots.
Friday’s “toned-down” demonstrations saw some 10,000 Palestinians burning tires and hurling stones and Molotov cocktails at IDF troops. There were three attempted infiltrations into Israeli territory before the army forced the infiltrators to return to Gaza. In previous weeks, the protests have drawn around 30,000 people.
Approximately 130 Palestinians were injured by gunfire and tear-gas inhalation, the Hamas-run health ministry said.
The IAF on Saturday evening targeted a terror cell that oversaw the launch of incendiary devices from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel, which had sparked blazes that morning.
Prior to Friday’s border mayhem, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov called on all sides to refrain from violence.
“In light of today’s planned Gaza march, I urge all to exercise restraint, to proceed in a peaceful manner and to avoid escalation. The UN is working with Egypt and its partners to avoid violence, address all humanitarian issues and support reconciliation,” he said.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said that if Friday passed without any violence he would consider reopening two out of three land crossings into Gaza that were closed two days before in response to the violence.
After meeting with Haniyeh and other Hamas officials, the Egyptian intelligence officials continued on to Ramallah to meet with senior Fatah officials.
Fatah spokesman Atef Abu Seif said after the meeting that Hamas was trying to scuttle reconciliation talks with Fatah and had usurped the weekly border protests for its own ends. He accused the Gaza-based group of seeking a ceasefire deal with Israel and thereby “paving the way for the US administration and Israel to pass” President Donald Trump’s upcoming peace plan.
Majed Fityani, secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said Hamas had become a “front for a demonic alliance led by the US administration and Israel, whose goal is to undermine the Palestinian national project and preserve the occupation.”