Hamas Leader Sends 'Final Warning' to Israel Not to Evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem Homes

Mohammed Deif, the hidden leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, issued a "final warning" that Israel will pay a "heavy price" if it moves to evict Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem.

In a message obtained by Newsweek on Wednesday, Hamas on behalf of Deif, said they were sending a "clear" final warning to Israel over threats to remove dozens of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem.

"The Chief of Staff is sending a clear and last warning to the Israeli occupation and settlers that if they did not immediately cease their aggression against our people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, we will not sit on our hands and will make them pay a heavy price," the message stated.

The message comes as several Palestinian families in the neighborhood continue to fight a long-standing legal battle with Israeli groups that are trying to acquire the property, as both sides view the land as their own territory.

Update:This has been updated to include a message that was obtained by Newsweek.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

The leader of Hamas on Tuesday warned Israel that it would pay a "heavy price" if it evicts Palestinian families from east Jerusalem. Above, the Star of David and an Israeli flag on top of a house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied east Jerusalem on May 5, 2021. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Deif has been in hiding for more than two decades and is believed to be paralyzed after surviving multiple assassination attempts. The most recent was during the 2014 Gaza war, when an Israeli airstrike killed his wife and infant son, according to Hamas.

That was also the last time he made any public statement, an audio recording in which he said Hamas chose to attack soldiers rather than civilians, accompanied with footage of Hamas fighters attacking a small Israeli military base near Gaza. Despite his claims, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets at civilian areas during the war.

The only known image of Deif is a 30-year-old ID photo released by Israel, and even in Gaza, only a handful of people would recognize him.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 war, territories the Palestinians want for their future state. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.

The Palestinians view east Jerusalem—which includes some of the holiest sites for Jews, Christians and Muslims—as their capital, and its fate is one of the most sensitive issues in the Mideast conflict.

Recently, Palestinian protesters have clashed with Israeli police over restrictions on gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Hamas egged on the clashes and Gaza militants fired rockets at Israel in support of the protesters.

Hamas appears to be seizing on the threatened Sheikh Jarrah evictions to bolster its image as an armed resistance movement in contrast to President Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority, which engages in security coordination with Israel.

Last month, Abbas indefinitely delayed the first Palestinian elections in 15 years, citing Israeli restrictions in east Jerusalem. Critics saw that as a pretext for calling off a vote in which Abbas' Fatah party appeared likely to lose power and influence to Hamas, which denounced the postponement as a "coup."

Despite the harsh rhetoric, in Gaza, where Hamas seized power from Abbas' forces in 2007, the militant group has largely observed an informal cease-fire with Israel in recent years in exchange for the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the territory.

AP Israel Palestine
A Palestinian is detained by Israeli police outside the Old City after police blocked the entrances to the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem on March 12, 2019. Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press