Exclusive: Hamas Welcomes Lebanon, Syria Rockets Toward Israel, Says Palestinian Authority 'in Hibernation'

Hamas has hailed the recent firing of rockets from Lebanon and Syria toward Israel as acts of solidarity with the Gaza-based group's ongoing war with Israel, and has criticized what is perceived as a lack of action on the part of the traditional Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

After a third volley of rockets in less than a week were fired from across Israel's volatile northern border with Lebanon on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Hamas movement embraced the attack, along with a recent strike from Syria nearly a week ago, as part of a mutual struggle against Israel and its territorial claims.

"We welcome any resistance against the Israeli occupation wherever and whenever it is carried out," a Hamas spokesperson told Newsweek.

The Israel Defense Forces said the Iron Dome defense system intercepted one of the four most recent rockets fired from Lebanon in the Lower Galilee and Krayot area, while "the rest most likely fell in open areas." The two previous sets of launches from Lebanon were said to have landed in Lebanese territory and the Mediterranean Sea, respectively.

Of the three rockets from the Syrian launch last Friday, one failed to cross the border and two hit open areas in Israel, according to the IDF. The perpetrators have yet to be identified, though rockets have been discovered near a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon and a number of groups including at least one Iran-aligned "Axis of Resistance" group from Iraq claimed responsibility for the Syria launch.

The cross-border attacks came as Hamas and allied factions such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired what the IDF estimated to be more than 4,000 rockets, along with anti-tank weapons and armed drones, toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, where the IDF has pummeled the densely-populated Palestinian enclave with aerial, naval and ground attacks.

The conflict is the worst violence between Israelis and Palestinians in years. The theater of hostilities has also expanded to include clashes between Israel's own Arab and far-right nationalist communities, as well as attacks conducted by Palestinians against Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Jerusalem, where mounting tensions sparked the current mayhem.

From Gaza, Hamas has called on Palestinians in these two other Palestinian territories to intensify their uprising against Israeli personnel deployed there. However, the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, led by Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, head of the left-wing Fatah party, has been cautious to call for open resistance.

Hamas, Fatah's top rival, says it expects more from them.

"It seems that the Palestinian Authority and Fatah are currently in a hibernation," the Hamas spokesperson told Newsweek.

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A picture taken on May 20 from the northern Israeli town of Metula near the border with Lebanon, shows an Israeli flag flying in the foreground as people raise Palestinian, Lebanese, Iranian and Iran-backed Hezbollah flags during a rally in solidarity with the Palestinians, on the outskirts of the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. The tense border has witnessed rocket fire and deadly hostilities in recent days as Israeli forces fired on pro-Palestinian protesters crossing the U.N.-patrolled Blue Line. JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

Fatah, which stands for the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, is the top faction of the broader Palestine Liberation Organization, and served as the armed and diplomatic vanguard for Palestinian statehood for decades, led by revolutionary leader Yasser Arafat. His 2004 death left a vacuum in Palestinian leadership that was ultimately filled by Abbas, who was elected to lead the de facto Palestinian administration in 2006.

This same election, however, saw even larger gains by Hamas, which stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement. The group was formed in the 1980s as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood movement, and began launching attacks against Israel during the First Intifada, which ended with the Oslo Accords signed by Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. That agreement ultimately failed to bring peace, as the Second Intifada erupted in the early 2000s.

Hamas' electoral victory also caused a bloody rift with Fatah, as the former secured control of the Gaza Strip and the latter retained leadership of the West Bank. Hamas' sustained popularity loomed over what would have been the first Palestinian elections in 15 years scheduled for last month, but Abbas postponed the vote, citing Israel's refusal to allow elections in Jerusalem.

Hamas decried the move as "a coup."

Meanwhile, tensions in the holy city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital, came to a head, as Israeli families attempt to evict Palestinians from the occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Amid swelling demonstrations, Israeli security forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, sparking further outrage and a rocket barrage that continues to rain down on Israel.

Although Abbas has readily denounced "war crimes" committed by Israel against the Gaza Strip, he has fallen short of supporting Hamas' military campaign, drawing criticism from some Palestinian officials in the West Bank.

"The most notable result of the missiles that hit Israel is the diverted attention away from Jerusalem towards Gaza," Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee Executive Member Faisal Aranki recently told Newsweek.

He said that the "so-called 'Islamic resistance factions' within Gaza" sought to bring themselves to the center of global attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so they "launched rockets that brought them back to the forefront of the event, while also pulling the rug from underneath the feet of those that initiated the event in Jerusalem and the ones that transferred the event into the 1948 regions—igniting participation in that region for the first time."

Aranki also placed the blame on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom he said "chose the escalation against the Palestinians in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, and the war on Gaza Strip, in order to export his internal crises of corruption charges and his failed attempt to formulate a government to continue to create a state of emergency that would enable him to remain in the prime ministerial chair."

Netanyahu has denied this narrative, and he too saw the conflict as rooted in an inter-Palestinian affair.

"We could see the origins of this particular outbreak in the cancellation of the Palestinian elections," Netanyahu said in remarks delivered Wednesday. "Hamas was sure that it would gain considerable power and when they saw that these elections were not going to take place, they sought to use the Jerusalem Day ceremonies and events around Jerusalem Day, and the court proceedings in Sheikh Jarrah to incite riots, to incite violence in order to further their political goals."

Other Israeli officials speaking to Newsweek have voiced similar opinions regarding the outbreak of the ongoing hostilities.

But given the scope of the current battle, even Netanyahu said Israel "didn't expect quite a conflagration."

The Hamas spokesperson told Newsweek that the ongoing attacks were rooted in the defense of Palestinians protesting Israeli policies in the other territories.

"The reason for the demonstrations and the firing of the rocket is trying to deter the Israeli occupation and its settlers and extremist Knesset Members who insist to desecrate Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third holiest place for all Muslims around the world and the holiest site for us as the Palestinians," the Hamas spokesperson told Newsweek last week. "In addition, to deter the Israeli authorities which have been working along with the settlers' organizations to expel the Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah from their homes and replace them with settlers."

The goals of Hamas and other Palestinian factions include "giving free access to worshipers from all parts of Palestine to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque without restriction or harassment by the Israeli police or the Israeli settlers and halting the attempts to expel the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah."

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A ball of fire erupts from a building in Gaza City's Rimal residential district on May 20 during Israeli bombardment on the Hamas-controlled enclave. Israel and the Palestinians are mired in their worst conflict in years as the IDF pounds the Gaza Strip with air strikes and artillery, while Hamas and other Palestinian fighters fire rockets into Israel. BASHAR TALEB/AFP/Getty Images

And while Hamas has gone to war with the IDF on three prior occasions, the potential for other fronts being opened remains a major concern for Israel. It has fought three wars with Arab coalitions and two with Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement, which receives backing from Iran.

"I think that all the countries and different terror organizations, of course led by Iran, that surround us, they look at this conflict, and they want to learn, learn about the IDF, its capabilities, its defense capabilities, its aerial and naval capabilities," an IDF official told Newsweek. "It's not surprising that all the eyes of the world are watching, and all the eyes of the terror organizations are watching the Gaza Strip."

While Israeli officials have drawn extensive links between Iran and Gaza-based factions including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, it has not linked its archfoe to the ongoing rockets from Gaza, the launches from Lebanon and Syria nor the attacks from in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Still, the IDF keeps a vigilant eye as the conflict threatens to expand.

"Specifically, the IDF is, of course, focused right now on the Gaza Strip, but we never forget that we have other fronts as well," the IDF official said, "either the Lebanese or Syrian front or the Judea and Samaria West Bank front, and the other farther fronts, and the IDF is always on guard on all the fronts."

The IDF official issued a warning to any foes who may seek to take advantage of the situation.

"I think it will be a mistake from their side to try and test us when we are focused on the Gaza Strip," the IDF official said. "We have the capabilities to defend ourselves, even with multiple arenas, even if we're very much focused right now on the Gaza Strip and the Gaza conflict."

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.