Israel defense chief calls for devastating blow for Hamas | News | DW | 16.10.2018
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Israel defense chief calls for devastating blow for Hamas

The Israeli defense minister said a crippling strike against the Gaza-ruling Islamist group is the only way to reduce violence. With a growing army presence near the Israeli-Gaza border, that option is becoming likely.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday said Israel must preemptively deliver a devastating strike against Hamas in Gaza amid rising tensions in the region.

Lieberman cited growing violence on the Israeli-Gaza border, where Palestinians have been protesting for months, as the primary reason for such an assault.

On Friday, at least seven Palestinians were killed when they breached a border fence in an "organized attack," according to Israeli authorities.

"The situation as it is today cannot continue," Lieberman told soldiers at an army base near the border. "We must strike Hamas a hard blow; this is the only way to bring the situation back to what it was before and to reduce the level of violence."

Tensions rising

Tensions have been simmering since earlier this year, but in recent weeks have taken a turn for the worse.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared Lieberman's sentiment on Sunday, saying Israel is "very close to another type of action which would include very strong blows."

On Friday, Israel suspended shipment of Qatari-donated fuel supplies, which had only started to ship as of Tuesday that week. Netanyahu said that "if Hamas is intelligent, it will cease fire and violence now."

Protesters on the Israel-Gaza border

For months, Palestinians have gathered at the Gaza border with Israel to demand access to lands once belonging to their families and for East Jerusalem to be recognized as the capital of a future Palestinian state

'Wide-scale reinforcements'

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump's administration has steadily pushed forward with its own vision of the Middle East peace process, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and cutting funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

Several of the border protests stemmed from Washington's decision to recognize Jerusalem, a move widely criticized by Middle Eastern countries as well as the international community.

Earlier this month, the Israeli military deployed "wide-scale reinforcements" near the border "to thwart terror activity and prevent infiltrations into Israel from the Gaza Strip." However, some observers have speculated it could be in preparation for an incursion into Gaza.

Avigdor Lieberman

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman supports a deadly response to border incursions by protesters in Gaza

'Deal of the century'

Another facet of the Trump administration's vision is the easing of the humanitarian situation in Hamas-ruled Gaza, according to senior Palestinian officials. Over the past month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has thwarted attempts to rehabilitate the coastal enclave.

"The US is trying to use the humanitarian situation in Gaza as a tool to implement its plan," said senior Palestinian official Mohammed Ishtayeh. "We say that Gaza is an integral part of the Palestinian lands, and solving the problems of Gaza should be in the context of a broad political framework."

According to US media, the Trump administration's "deal of the century," aimed at ending the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will have Gaza as a centerpiece of the accord.

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ls/aw (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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