Israel, Hamas exchange threats over West Bank annexation

Israel and the Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip have exchanged threats to launch full-blown wars against each other amid the former’s plan to annex part of the occupied West Bank.

“I suggest that Hamas leaders remember that they will be the first to pay for any aggression,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz tweted on Thursday.

Gantz, who also serves as Israel’s alternate Prime Minister in the new power-sharing coalition, said his country “will not accept threats”.

In a warning sent to the leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian movement that runs Gaza, he said that “the price for any attempt to hurt our civilians will be painful and forceful”.

Earlier on Thursday, Hamas warned that it considers Israel’s plan to annex a portion of the West Bank as a declaration of war on the Palestinian people.

“The resistance (Hamas) is ready to protect its people and its holy places,” Abu Ubaida, a spokesman with Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Deen al-Qassam Brigade, said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing his plan to annex the Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley, an area that makes up some 30 per cent of the West Bank.

Netanyahu set July 1 as the starting date for the beginning of the plan despite international condemnations.

The annexation plan is part of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, so-called “Deal of the Century” that was revealed earlier this year.

A joint US-Israeli team is working on the maps that will determine the demarcation of areas to be annexed by Israel, a move that has been strongly criticized by the international community.

The Palestinians, who claim all of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, have rejected the idea.

Israel has occupied the territories since the 1967 Middle East war.

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.