Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told leaders of communities near Gaza on Thursday – even as a five-day cease-fire took hold – that Israel would not tolerate a drizzle of mortar or rocket attacks.
Amid mounting public criticism, especially in the South, that Operation Protective Edge might well end without removing for a long period the rocket and mortar threats from the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu met in his office with the heads of the Hof Ashkelon, Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regional councils.
“The IDF launched Operation Protective Edge after Hamas returned to drizzle rocket fire on the southern communities,” the prime minister said. “Our policy is clear and consistent – even to a drizzle we respond forcefully.
We launched this campaign to strengthen the security of all Israeli citizens in general, and yours in particular.”
Netanyahu pointed out that the IDF struck some 160 terrorist targets after Hamas renewed the fighting last weekend and fired mortar shells at the communities near the Gaza border.
Residents of the communities most affected by the rocket and mortar fire were not the only ones to criticize Netanyahu, as members of his cabinet voiced displeasure over the past few days at being kept in the dark regarding the indirect cease-fire negotiations in Cairo.
On Thursday, the prime minster convened the eight-member security cabinet to brief it on the talks in Egypt and what seems to be an emerging agreement that will be based on the accord reached after 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, which called for an end to the rocket fire, the opening of border crossings under Egyptian and Israeli supervisions, and the funneling of money into Gaza through Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, to ensure that it does not go into Hamas’s coffers.
Israel’s negotiating team to the Cairo talks is expected to return there on Saturday night.
One Israeli official said that Israel has always expressed its interest in achieving the goals of Operation Protective Edge – restoring quiet and significantly reducing Hamas’s capabilities – through diplomatic means.
Israel was “realistic” about the cease-fire, especially considering that Hamas has violated 10 previous truces this time around, the official said.
“The troops are ready, and still around Gaza,” he said. “We know from past behavior that they [Hamas] might violate it.”
Meanwhile, Hamas said on Thursday that “some progress” has been achieved in Cairo toward a permanent cease-fire. Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior Hamas official who participated in the Egyptian-sponsored talks, said it would be possible to reach an agreement if Israel “stopped playing with words.”
“Our adversary is accustomed to playing with words and procrastination,” Hayeh said upon his return to the Gaza Strip. “But we won’t sign any agreement that does not meet the demands of our people.”
The Palestinian delegation to the Cairo talks held “strenuous” discussions over the past 13 days, he said.
He dismissed reports about differences among members of the delegation.
“Our delegation is unified behind the demands of the Palestinians,” Hayeh said. “We are determined to make the enemy pay the price.”
The Hamas official said the Palestinian delegation decided to give the talks another chance by agreeing to the extension of the 72-hour ceasefire that expired at midnight on Wednesday night.
“There is still a real chance to reach an agreement,” he added. “We will continue the dialogue.”
Hayeh referred to the airport that functioned in the southern Gaza Strip between 1998 and 2001, which Israel partially destroyed during the second intifada, saying it should be returned to operation. With regard to Hamas’s demand for a seaport, he said that previous agreements between Israel and the PA talked about the establishment of such a port.
He said that the Rafah border crossing was a Palestinian-Egyptian issue.
“We understood from the Egyptians that there will be an easing of restrictions at the terminal,” he added without elaborating.
While some of the Hamas negotiators returned to the Gaza Strip, others headed from Cairo to Qatar for consultations with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
The Islamic Jihad negotiators headed to Beirut for consultations with the group’s leader, Ramadan Shalah.
One of the Hamas officials who traveled to Qatar, Izzat al-Risheq, also talked about progress on some issues at the Cairo talks. However, he said that many other issues remain unresolved.
Risheq said that Hamas “foiled” attempts during the talks to confiscate the weapons of the Palestinian groups in Gaza, in a reference to Israel’s demand for the Strip’s demilitarization.
Ziad al-Nakhaleh, a senior member of Islamic Jihad who represented his group at the Cairo talks, said a permanent cease-fire agreement was imminent.
“We have made progress at the Cairo talks toward lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip,” he said. “We agreed that the border crossings would be opened.”
He said the two sides agreed that the issue of the airport and seaport would be discussed one month after the signing of a long-term ceasefire agreement. He, too, said that the Palestinians, backed by the Egyptians, rejected Israel’s demand to disarm the various groups in the Gaza Strip.
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