During a memorial service for Hamas fighters killed in the firefight that erupted after the Palestinians uncovered a secret IDF mission in Gaza last week, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar pulled out a gun—which he claimed belongs to an IDF soldier who participated in the operation—and declared: "Next time, the barrage of rockets will reach Tel Aviv and its surrounding area."
Standing in front of the Egyptian mediators and hundreds of Hamas members, the Hamas leader continued to threaten Israel, making perfectly clear that his organization had no intention of holding its fire.
“What did the Israeli leadership think when it allowed in fuel and Qatari funds? … That we would sell out our blood for diesel and dollars? They’ve been disappointed, and their goals have failed,” Sinwar asserted.
Sinwar said he had spoken to the leader of Hamas’s military wing, Muhammad Deif, in the wake of the death of Nour el-Deen Baraka, the commander of the Khan Yunis Brigade of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, in the botched IDF mission. “Deif asked me to say that Tel Aviv and the surrounding area are next. The first barrage to hit Tel Aviv will surprise Israel,” he said.
Adding that Hamas was determined to "break the siege and provide decent life to our armed people in Gaza," the Hamas leader sent a warning to the Israeli government: "I appeal to (Prime Minister) Netanyahu and to the next defense minister: Whoever tests Gaza will find only death and poison... Our missiles are more precise, have a greater range, and carry more explosives than in the past."
The head of the Egyptian delegation, Ahmed Abd al-Khaliq, attended the rally. He was surrounded by photographers when he approached Baraka's children and kissed their hands.
The Egyptian delegation left Gaza on Saturday. It arrived in the strip on Thursday for talks with the Hamas leadership in an effort to establish understandings between Israel and Hamas.
During his speech, Sinwar also addressed internal Palestinian reconciliation efforts, which are also being led, among others, by senior Egyptian intelligence officials.
"I call upon the brothers in Fatah, the Palestinian Authority, and all the national and Islamic factions, to sit around one table so we could share blood and make decisions together," he exclaimed.
Hamas is not the only organization to spread hatred and intimidation over the weekend. The military wing of Islamic Jihad posted a video titled "Hell of Ashkelon," showing the launching of the rockets that hit a four-story residential building in Ashkelon last week.
Some 8,000 Gazans showed up this weekend for the weekly Friday border protests against Israel. The IDF reported that the demonstrators maintained a safe distance from the fence, while burning tires and throwing stones. No attempts to breach the fence were reported.
Gaza’s health ministry said 40 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire and tear gas, without giving a number breakdown. Witnesses said most of the injuries occurred in stone-throwing incidents at the usual five protest locations.
One of the organizers behind the protests, Issam Hamad, explained that the Egyptians requested protesters stay back from the fence so as not to endanger the ceasefire.
"The delegation of senior Egyptian intelligence officials has asked us to stay away from the fence in the next three weeks, so they could complete their mission. We are committed to fulfilling their request," said Hamad.
Against the backdrop of tensions with Gaza, Al Khaleej news reported that an agreement is beginning to take shape, with the help of Egyptian and German mediators, over an exchange between Hamas and Israel of prisoners and missing persons.
Israel reportedly has agreed in principle to release Hamas terrorists released in the Shalit deal who have since been arrested again in exchange for the return the bodies of IDF soldiers and the living Israeli citizens held in Gaza.
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, professor of Political Science at al Azhar University in Gaza, said that in an interim deal is being formulated between Israel and Hamas "that would be devoted to the release of Palestinian prisoners and the return of Israeli POWs and MIAs."
"Hamas promised Fadwa Barghouti that her husband, Marwan, would be released in this deal, and Hamas will insist upon it. Its commitment to the release of Barghouti was given in writing to his wife," Saada added.
A senior Israeli official vehemently denied this report.
Meanwhile, deputy Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said that Israel was delaying the prisoner exchange deal because of its refusal to release the prisoners of the Shalit deal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.