JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hamas leaders called on Palestinians living in the northern Gaza Strip to return to their homes and ignore Israeli warnings of an impending military operation.
“To all of our people who have evacuated their homes – return to them immediately and do not leave the house,” said a statement titled “Urgent call to the residents of the Gaza Strip” released by the Hamas Interior Ministry, Ynet reported. “You must follow the directives of the Interior Ministry. This is psychological warfare, random messages to instill panic in people.”
The statement came after the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday morning dropped leaflets above areas in the northern Gaza Strip warning Palestinian civilians to evacuate their homes in advance of a military campaign to destroy rocket launchers.
“The IDF’s campaign is to be short and temporary,” the messages said. “Those who fail to comply with the instructions will endanger their lives and the lives of their families. Beware.”
Some 4,000 residents of the Beit Lahiya area reportedly left their homes ahead of the noon deadline. Some 75,000 civilians reportedly live in the area.
Meanwhile, a Hamas spokesman took to Facebook to urge Palestinian citizens to remain in their homes.
“We are asking the courageous residents of Gaza not to follow the directives of the Israeli occupation army on leaflets that it dropped from the air and in telephone messages,” Hamas spokesman Eyad al-Bazam wrote on Facebook, according to the Israeli news site NRG.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Sunday morning Cabinet meeting criticized Hamas for putting civilians in harm’s way.
“We are striking Hamas with increasing strength. We are hitting commanders, militants, arsenals and command centers. The IDF, ISA, security services, firefighters, the Israel Police – everyone is doing their part and doing it in the best way possible,” he said.
“But one must understand how our enemy operates. Who hides in mosques? Hamas. Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas. Who puts command centers in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas. Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human shields and it is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza. Therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility.”