In a surprise move, Hamas announced on Thursday that it has rejected the $15-million third tranche of the Qatari grant to the Gaza Strip, vowing to continue its weekly protests along the border with Israel.The announcement came following meetings between Hamas leaders and Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi, who arrived in the Gaza Strip late Wednesday.Speaking to reporters in the coastal enclave, senior Hamas official Khalil al-Haya said that his movement notified the Qatari envoy of its decision not to accept the grant. Hamas, he said, “will not accept making Gaza exposed to political blackmail in the Israeli elections campaign.”The Hamas official was referring to the controversy that erupted in Israel over the Qatari aid and the Security Cabinet’s approval of the transfer of the money to the Gaza Strip.“We made it clear to Ambassador Al-Emadi that we refuse to accept the third Qatari grant in response to the actions of the occupation and attempts to evade the understandings reached under the auspices of Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations,” Haya said.The weekly Friday demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border “will continue until our rights are restored and until they achieve their goals,” he added. “Gaza, our people and our resistance, will not be part of the Israeli elections process.”Thousands of Gazans have been protesting along the security fence on a weekly basis, taking part in Great March of Return demonstrations that began on March 30. The protesters are calling for an end of the 12-year-long Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.The Hamas official claimed that the Qatari envoy expressed “understanding” for Hamas’s refusal to receive the grant.Al-Emadi left the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing with Israel on Thursday afternoon. It was not clear whether he was planning to return to the Strip in the coming days.Hamas has come under criticism from several Palestinians, especially its rivals in Fatah, for accepting the Qatari funds. Hamas’s critics have accused it of “trading Palestinian blood for money” and facilitating a US and Israeli “scheme” to establish a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.The PLO’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine praised Hamas for turning down the Qatari grant and called it a “step in the right direction.” The group said in a statement that it had previously warned Hamas against Israeli attempts to “humiliate” the Palestinians. It called on Palestinians to participate in the weekly demonstrations near the border with Israel on Friday “in order to send a message to the [Israeli] enemy that the Palestinians won’t surrender.”Another PLO group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, also praised the Hamas decision and called it a “significant and necessary step.” Hamas’s refusal to accept the Qatari funds, the group said, is aimed at sending a message to Israel that the Palestinians “won’t accept any preconditions that harm all Palestinians.”Islamic Jihad, the second largest group in the Gaza Strip after Hamas, voiced support for the Hamas move and called for the continuation of the weekly demonstrations near the border with Israel.Palestinian political analyst Abdel Sattar Qassem described the Hamas move as “manly and courageous.” He told the Palestinian website Safa that Israel was using the Qatari funds to “bring the Palestinians to their knees.”Earlier on Thursday, the IDF deployed an Iron Dome missile defense battery in the Gush Dan metropolitan area in central Israel due to the increased tensions both on the northern and southern borders. According to KAN public broadcaster, air defense reservists were called up to man the battery. The Iron Dome units have been placed facing north to Lebanon, and south to Gaza.The escalation on the southern border comes after a period of relative quiet regarding the ongoing weekly Great March of Return protests. Last Friday there were no Palestinian casualties.On Thursday, the IDF accused the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad of trying to “destabilize” the Gaza Strip, with Arabic-speaking spokesman Lt.-Col. Avichay Adraee warning Gazan civilians of the group’s activities on Twitter.“In recent weeks, we have detected increasing attempts by the Islamic Jihad movement to destabilize the security situation in the Gaza Strip – and the recent events on the border are evidence of this,” he wrote, referring to an IDF officer escaping with his life after his helmet was struck by sniper fire on Tuesday while he was stationed on the Gaza border.“The dangerous activities of the radical Islamic Jihad movement jeopardize the attempts to improve the civilian reality in the Gaza Strip. Residents of Gaza: Through their activities, Islamic Jihad endangers your safety and security. There is no question about the loyalty of this organization. The only problem is that it will succeed in its plan to drag you towards an escalation.”Meanwhile in the North, IDF forces operating near the border with Syria were fired upon overnight on Wednesday, the military said, adding that the troops returned fire. No Israelis were wounded in the incident.