By Lilach Shoval, Efrat Forsher and Israel Hayom staff/JNS.org
A day after the Israel Defense Forces bombed a number of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rocket attack on the southern Israeli town of Sderot, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that the Jewish state cannot allow the Hamas terror group to arm itself.
Lieberman’s caution comes just days after Hamas threatened to abduct Israeli soldiers on Sunday, showcasing two "prison cells" built especially for future Israeli captives.
"We can't be expected to allow [Hamas] them to rob the residents of Gaza,” Lieberman said. “They charge taxes and instead of building buildings, they built tunnels.”
Speaking during a tour of the northern border, Lieberman said that Hamas knows whenever it goes into a crisis, Israel, the United Nations or the European Union swoop in to solve the problem.
"They’re not interested in solving their own crisis; they just want to build up military power,” he said. "Seventy percent of their tax revenue goes to building up military power and re-arming. They don't want to take care of the citizens, they only want rockets and tunnels."
Following Israel's unusually forceful response – striking dozens of targets across Gaza Monday – to the single rocket that landed in Sderot, there have been no further incidents. Senior Israeli military officials said that following the retaliation, Israel was not planning on escalating the tension. That was despite the fact that, on Sunday, Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, held a rally in Rafah honoring three senior operatives, Muhammad Abu Shamalah, Raed al-Attar and Muhammad Barhoum killed during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
Hundreds of armed Hamas terrorists participated in the rally where weapons and rockets were put on display, as were the jail cells. Both "cells" included Hebrew writing indicating they were intended "for enemy prisoners."
"The siege will not prevent our brigades from developing their abilities," Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida remarked, referring to a blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel. "It [the siege] will not help the current calm continue. Whoever awakens our wrath will unleash a volcano."
The brigades and the resistance are prepared to protect the Palestinian people, and "we will continue our struggle [against Israel] until we are victorious,” he said.
He reiterated the brigade's solidarity with "soldiers of the resistance," families of terrorists, Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
The rocket fired at Sderot from Gaza was the second such incident since Lieberman assumed his defense minister post in May.
Following the IAF’s response to Monday’s launched rocket, and assuming that Hamas decides to maintain restraint, the latest clash appears to be over. But a top Israeli military official declared that the "equation with Gaza has changed."
The timing of the Israeli response appears to suggest that the IDF seized an opportunity to target key Hamas assets. The political echelon stressed that the forceful retaliation was designed to send a clear message that Israel would no longer be as forgiving as it has been in the past. A source said on Monday, "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy is to prevent a drizzle of rocket fire."
Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar confirmed that the organization "remains committed to the truce agreement with the Israeli occupation, as long as they halt the strikes in Gaza." However, he stressed that if the Israeli strikes continue, Hamas' response will be decisive and forceful.
"The Israeli occupation has openly signaled that it is not interested in escalation and concluded the confrontation," al-Zahar said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri echoed al-Zahar's remarks, but added, "the Zionist occupation will not succeed in imposing new policies on the resistance."
The Salafi organization Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis, affiliated with the Islamic State group in Gaza, also issued a statement saying, "Just as the children of Gaza are suffering, so will the children of Sderot suffer."
The group warned that the rocket fire into Israel's south will continue, declaring it was not a "Hamas' puppet."
Yet, Israel's response to Sunday's rocket strike appears to indicate that future rocket attacks will not be tolerated, even if not perpetrated by Hamas, and officials won’t fall back into the standard pattern of small-scale retaliations. In all likelihood, the new defense minister will demand harsher, stronger retaliations, particularly if the next rocket causes damage or loss of life.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Israeli security forces also raided seven illegal Palestinian weapons mills in the Hebron and Bethlehem area on Monday night in the largest crackdown of its kind over the last year.
The raids were carried out by five IDF battalions, the military's Judea and Samaria Division, the Shin Bet security agency and the Judea and Samaria District Police in an effort to root out illegal weapons production and trading.
IDF and Border Police troops found 22 lathes in seven separate weapons factories. Dozens of firearms, weapons parts and cartridges were also uncovered in the operation. The lathes and weapons found were seized by security forces.
Two suspects were arrested in connection to production and trade of weapons. One of the suspects is believed to be a top weapons dealer in the area. He is currently being held by the Shin Bet for questioning.
Some of the guns discovered in the raid were foreign models, while others were made in the increasingly sophisticated local weapons mills. Along with the firearms, security forces found stolen bullets, knives, handcuffs, nunchucks, flak jackets and American army uniforms, according to Israeli media reports.
Riots erupted during the raid but no one was injured, according to the reports.
Since early 2016, the IDF and Shin Bet have uncovered 29 weapons factories, 49 lathes and 300 firearms in Judea and Samaria. More than 30 Palestinian terrorist attacks using firearms have been carried out against Israelis since the beginning of this year. More than 30 percent of the terrorists came from the Gush Etzion or Hebron regions. Security forces have arrested more than 140 people suspected of producing and trading weapons since January.
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