In a rare comment on the assassination of senior Hamas operative Mazen Fuqaha, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel was not “looking for adventures” in Gaza, and that Hamas is known for internal assassinations to settle scores.
Israel has not commented outright on the assassination, which Hamas has attributed to Israel and Palestinian collaborators.
Speaking in Sderot, Liberman said the group should search within itself for those responsible.
“It doesn’t matter what Hamas says, but rather what Jews will do. Hamas is known as the most extreme organization.I wouldn’t buy a single word they say or anything else. They should do what they want and we will do what we want,” Liberman said.
“We are carrying out security with responsibility and determination, and we are doing what we are supposed to do – maintaining the security for Israeli society. There is no reason to change the policy into something else,” he added.
Hamas on Saturday threatened to take “intensive action against Israeli agents in the coming hours and days,” in retaliation for the assassination of Fuqaha two weeks ago and in response to Liberman’s remarks, the spokesman of Hamas’s Izzadin Kassam Brigades said that “only the Zionist enemy is responsible for the assassination and their attempts to escape responsibility will not succeed.”
“Lieberman’s statements in which he is trying to escape responsibility bear witness to the fear of senior Israeli officials whose hands are stained with Fuqaha’s blood,” the spokesman added.
Since the beginning of the latest wave of violence to hit Israel and the West Bank in October 2015, numerous attacks by Hamas supporters and members have been thwarted in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Security forces have stepped up their preparedness ahead of Passover, deploying extra forces to areas such as Jerusalem’s Old City, as there is often an uptick in tensions and violence during major Jewish holidays.
Last week, Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman warned the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the current calm is “deceiving” and that Hamas and other terror cells will try to carry out attacks over Passover.
“The relative calm that we are experiencing at this time is quite deceiving, it’s misleading and deluding because Hamas and global jihadist infrastructure are working every day in attempting to conduct terrorist attacks in Israeli territory,” he said, adding that “our goal is to ensure that the holidays are as quiet as possible.”
In March, several Hamas cells planning or responsible for extensive terror activity in the region have been broken up by Israeli security forces who have carried out near nightly raids in an effort to bring down the number of attacks.
On Saturday, 17-year-old Ahmed Ghazal stabbed three Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City. Ghazal, from the West Bank village of Sebastia, stabbed two Israeli youths before running into a residential building to hide. He then stabbed a police officer before being shot dead. All victims suffered light-to-moderate wounds, and the two civilians were released from the hospital late Saturday night.
Ghazal, who posted pictures of himself visiting the Dome of the Rock moments before the attack, was celebrated as “martyr” by Hamas-affiliated social media accounts shortly after his death, calling his actions “heroic.” Overnight on Saturday, the IDF carried out a raid at his family’s home.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, IDF forces also sealed a bookstore in Nablus overnight Sunday that had been used by a Hamas terrorist cell to manufacture explosives and “inciting materials.”
Last December, a 20-man Hamas cell was discovered in a state of “high readiness to carry out deadly suicide attacks,” in Jerusalem and Haifa, the Shin Bet said in a statement at the time. Many of its members were arrested.
Another five Palestinians suspected of throwing rocks or taking part in violent protests were also arrested by IDF troops overnight on Saturday across the West Bank.
Later on Sunday, a 35 year-old Palestinian resident of Yatta was arrested following an undercover investigation by security forces into a suspected counterfeiting ring.
He was found with a suitcase containing $800,000 in counterfeit money and detained for questioning. Police say the investigation is ongoing.