JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday threatened "very painful blows" against Gaza's Hamas rulers if they don't halt protests along the perimeter fence that have led to clashes with Israeli troops.
Netanyahu said Israel is very close to waging a "different kind of activity" against the Islamic militants. He said "if it has any sense, Hamas will cease its fire and violent outbursts — now."
Hamas has orchestrated near-weekly protests along the Israel-Gaza boundary since March, pressing for an end to a decade-long Israel-Egyptian blockade of the isolated territory.
The protests have intensified in recent weeks as attempts to reach a truce with Israel, including an easing of the blockade, have faltered.
The Israeli military said 14,000 Palestinians thronged the border fence areas on Friday, burning tires and throwing rocks, firebombs and grenades at soldiers stationed atop earth mounds on the other side of the barrier.
Some 20 Palestinians breached the border during Friday's protest. Seven Palestinians were killed, including four who the military said were shot while approaching a military position in Israeli territory.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that following Friday's demonstrations Israel would halt all fuel shipments to the Gaza Strip until further notice.
Gaza, which already suffers from chronic power outages, relies on fuel shipments from Israel to power its electricity-generating plant. Israel last week reached a deal to provide Qatari-funded fuel to Gaza to increase electricity supplies.
"The State of Israel was prepared to improve the civilian reality in the Gaza Strip, but the decision of the Hamas leadership to use serious violence — especially on the same day in which tankers of diesel fuel were brought into the Gaza Strip — is what brought about the decision to cut off the supply of fuels," Lieberman said in a statement.
Israel transferred four tankers of Qatari-donated diesel to the beleaguered Gaza Strip on Friday.
Since protests began in March, at least 150 Palestinians have been killed while participating in or attending the Hamas-organized demonstrations. An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Gaza sniper in the same period.
The protests are aimed, in part, at lifting the crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip, which was put in place after Hamas took power in a 2007 coup. The blockade has plagued most of Gaza's 2 million residents. Electricity is supplied for roughly four hours a day, unemployment stands at more than 50 percent and tap water is unpotable.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars over the past decade and have recently engaged in several flare-ups of fighting.
Hamas seeks a cease-fire with Israel to secure an easing of the blockade but accuses its West Bank rivals, Fatah, of thwarting the effort. Hamas has escalated the border protests in recent weeks in response to stalled negotiations with Israel moderated by Egypt and the United Nations.