Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday warned Palestinian militants against carrying out attacks in revenge for the blowing up of a tunnel stretching from the Gaza Strip into the Jewish state last month.
The Islamic Jihad group meanwhile threatened to hit back at Israel over the destruction of the tunnel it says it dug.
The heated rhetoric comes at a sensitive time for the Palestinians, who are seeking to follow through on a landmark reconciliation deal signed last month aimed at ending a 10-year split between rivals Fatah and Hamas, the movement which runs Gaza.
Israel and militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.
The UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nickolay Mladenov, expressed concern, saying “the reckless actions and statements of militants in Gaza risk a dangerous escalation”.
“Palestinians have embarked on a course to solve the humanitarian crisis in the strip and bring back the legitimate authorities. They should not be distracted by extremists,” he said in a statement.
Israel’s October 30 blowing up of the tunnel resulted in the deaths of 12 Palestinian militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“There are still those who toy with trying new attacks on Israel,” Netanyahu said at the opening of his weekly cabinet meeting.
“We will react forcefully to whoever tries to attack us or attacks us from any arena. I mean anyone – rebel factions, organisations, anyone,” he said in an apparent reference to Islamic Jihad.
“In any case, we hold Hamas responsible for any attack against us originating from Gaza or organised there.”
Netanyahu’s remarks followed a Saturday night Arabic-language video by Major General Yoav Mordechai, head of the COGAT defence ministry unit responsible for activities in the Palestinian territories.
Referring to the October 30 operation, he said that Israel “destroyed a terror tunnel in Israeli sovereign territory”.
“We are aware of the plot that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group is planning against Israel,” said Mordechai.
“They are playing with fire at the expense of Gazan residents, the Palestinian reconciliation efforts and the stability of the entire region.
“Let it be clear: any attack by Islamic Jihad will be met with a harsh and determined Israeli response.”
Mordechai also addressed the Damascus-based Islamic Jihad leadership, mentioning Ramadan Shalah and Ziad Nakhaleh by name.
He called on them to “take control over the situation” as they “will be held accountable” for any attack.
Islamic Jihad rejected Mordechai’s message, saying “the enemy’s threat to target the leaders of the movement” was “a declaration of war”.
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attend a conference on the “suffering of the Palestinian children amid violations by Israel, the occupation power, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” in Kuwait City yesterday.
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