Hamas announced the creation of a "popular army" in Gaza on Friday, AFP reports, saying it was ready for any future conflict with Israel, particularly over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.
At a ceremony at the Jabaliya camp in northern Gaza, a spokesman for Hamas’s “military wing”, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said 2,500 recruits would form "the first section of the popular army for the liberation of Al-Aqsa and of Palestine".
Mohammed Abu Askar, a Hamas official, said those older than 20 could sign up "to be prepared for any confrontation" with Israel.
Abu Askar said the new force had been established "at a moment when the Al-Aqsa mosque is subject to serious Israeli violations".
Another Al-Qassam spokesman said "the people, arms and the tunnels are going well", in reference to Hamas's network of underground passages, hundreds of which have been destroyed by Israel and Egypt to prevent arms smuggling.
The new “popular army” and the Hamas threats come amid continuing tensions in Jerusalem in general and particularly on the Temple Mount, fueled by Arab riots in the capital.
Violent Arab rioting on the Temple Mount on Wednesday forced police to enter the Al-Aqsa mosque as rioters barricaded themselves inside.
Nevertheless, it is Israel that has been blamed for the violence, with Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warning Jews against ascending the Temple Mount and claiming that the “break-ins by the settlers and Jewish extremists” to the Al-Aqsa ,osque are a violation of Muslim feelings.
Hamas, for its part, welcomed this week two terrorist attacks against Israelis: A car terror attack in Jerusalem which killed a Border Patrol officer and a 17-year-old teenager, and a similar attack several hours later in which a terrorist tried to run over IDF soldiers in Gush Etzion, injuring three.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said on Wednesday that the terrorist who carried out the attack in Jerusalem had acted in a "natural response to the crimes of the (Israeli) occupation against Al-Aqsa mosque and occupied Jerusalem."
In an almost identical call to one made by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas last month, Abu Zuhri urged "all Palestinians to use all means to oppose the crimes of the occupiers against Al-Aqsa."
(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)