Hamas rejects Egyptian mediation, accuses Ben-Gvir and Smotrich of crossing ‘red lines’

Who’s calling the kettle black?

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Hamas has rejected Egyptian efforts towards calming tensions with Israel, a Lebanese newspaper affiliated with Hezbollah reported Thursday.

Al-Akhbar quoted the Hamas delegation as telling senior Egyptian intelligence officials that it is Israel’s “extremist occupation government’s policy” that is causing the escalation of tensions in Judea and Samaria and that it cannot stay quiet in the face of “the enemy’s continued crossing of red lines.”

These “red lines,” according to Hamas, included recent IDF operations in Jenin and near Jericho in the army’s nearly year-long Operation Break the Wave against terrorism emanating from Palestinian urban centers in the disputed region. A “repetition” of such activity will lead to “great and powerful reactions,” not calm, they said.

On Monday, IDF forces had killed five Hamas terrorists in the Aqabat Jabr refugee camp outside Jericho after a firefight erupted between the soldiers and Palestinians resisting the operation to seize terrorists responsible for an attempted attack on a Jewish restaurant about a week earlier. The suspected attackers, affiliated with Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, were killed in the clash, and the group vowed vengeance.

In addition, the terrorist organization warned that “it will not remain silent on the plans to Judaize the city of Jerusalem, expel Jerusalemites, and demolish their homes.”

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The report said that they specifically named National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister and Minister in the Defense Ministry Bezalel Smotrich, whose “actions… towards Al-Aqsa Mosque, the prisoners, the West Bank, and the Palestinians of the occupied interior [Arab Israelis – ed.]” are instigating the trouble.

The reference to jailed Palestinians was seemingly due to Ben-Gvir’s order earlier this month to enact stricter measures against security prisoners, including halting their work in bread bakeries in two Israeli jails, which he considered part of the “benefits and indulgences” they incorrectly receive. “The death penalty should be enacted for terrorists but until then, they should be treated as terrorists,” he said.

The prisoners have threatened to go on a mass hunger strike when Ramadan begins in late March if the measures aren’t dropped. During the month of Ramadan, religious Muslims fast during the day and eat at night.

Following a terrorist attack in Jerusalem nearly two weeks ago, Ben-Gvir also ordered that long-delayed, court-ordered demolition orders against illegally built Arab structures in Jerusalem be carried out. About a dozen have been torn down since.

The Egyptians had just concluded meetings Tuesday with a delegation from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) on the same subject. Al-Akhbar noted that PIJ chief Ziyad al-Nakhala had held an official meeting with the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel.

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The Egyptians, no strangers to mediation efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, told both that the U.S. is pushing to decrease regional tensions  and that the Biden administration is putting pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop “provocations” such as proposed Israeli plans to expand Jewish building in Judea and Samaria. In return, they want the Palestinians to lower the flames of violence.

In a statement afterwards, PIJ said they had discussed “the latest developments in Jerusalem and the West Bank, especially the city of Jenin,” as well as “bilateral relations, Egyptian efforts to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people and ways of restoring Palestinian unity.”

That same day, Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, called on Israel to “stop taking unilateral measures against Palestine,” after he met with the European envoy for the Middle East peace process, Sven Koopmans.

On Wednesday, PIJ took credit for firing on a group of Israelis visiting Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus (Shechem) that included incoming MK Zvi Sukkot of the Religious Zionist party. The IDF protective force fired back. No Israelis were hurt in the clash.

Al-Akhbar reported that Hamas rejected the American proposal because it aims to “strike the resistance in the West Bank and strengthen security coordination with the occupation, and this matter is rejected by all Palestinians.”