Israel will respond with force if Hamas renews attacks on it, senior security sources warned on Thursday evening.
The warning came as Hamas threatened to resume rocket fire at the end of a 72-hour truce at 8 a.m. Friday, if Jerusalem did not meet its demands.
The sources said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had instructed the military to be prepared for all scenarios.
An army source added that Hamas had many reasons to want to end the current conflict, but that the army was not dismissing Hamas’s belligerent declarations.
“We are preparing. As an army, we must take into account the possibility that at 8 a.m., they will begin firing.
We are ready for this,” the source said.
In Cairo, where negotiations were taking place, Egyptians exerted pressure on Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Thursday to extend the cease-fire.
The Al Jazeera TV network quoted a source from Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, as saying there would be no extension of the cease-fire unless all Palestinian demands were met.
Specifically, the group threatened to resume its attacks on Israel unless an agreement was reached in Cairo to lift the blockade of Gaza, including allowing Palestinians there to run their own airport and seaport.
Speaking at a Gaza rally, Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri advised tens of thousands of Israelis who had left their homes in the South not to return unless Netanyahu complied with Palestinian demands. The Hamas spokesman said Israel would fail to achieve in the political arena what it had failed to gain during the war.
“The war has not ended, and our fighters are still in the battlefield, and their fingers are still on the trigger,” he said. “Our rockets are also still directed toward Tel Aviv and Lod and beyond them. The tunnels are still alive and exist deep inside the Zionist entity.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, meanwhile, characterized Palestinian warnings of renewed conflict as an “act of extortion,” and said Israel was “taking this into consideration and is prepared for any possibility.”
Israeli officials have said that Israel would accept an extension of the 72-hour unconditional cease-fire to work out an agreement, as long as that extension was unconditional as well.
Members of a team of five Israeli negotiators are reportedly shuttling back and forth from Cairo to Jerusalem.
The team consists of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yoram Cohen, the Defense Ministry’s Amos Gilad, Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho, coordinator of government activity in the territories Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, and the head of the IDF’s planning directorate, Maj.-Gen. Nimrod Shefer.
Palestinian sources said the cease-fire discussions in Cairo had thus far failed to achieve real progress.
The sources attributed the lack of progress to Israel’s refusal to comply with Hamas and Islamic Jihad demands about the blockade and the release of West Bank Palestinians rearrested over the past two months.
The sources said that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had also rejected Israel’s demand that they be disarmed as part of a cease-fire agreement.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives are part of a Palestinian delegation headed by Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmed, which arrived in Cairo earlier this week.
Delegation members met with senior Egyptian officials and presented them with a list of demands for a long-term cease-fire with Israel.
Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk dismissed the possibility that the US would provide assurances regarding any deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
“The only guarantee is the weapons of the resistance,” he wrote in a posting on Facebook.
“America can’t act as a guarantor since it decided on the blockade and its weapons were used for destruction.”
As negotiations continued in Cairo, thousands of Palestinians participated in pro-Hamas rallies in the Gaza Strip that began after noon prayers. Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets, chanting slogans in support of Hamas.
Carrying green Hamas flags, the demonstrators also called on the Palestinian groups to launch rockets at Tel Aviv.
Hamas called for similar rallies in the West Bank following Friday prayers.
Masri said in a speech at one of the rallies that the Palestinian “resistance” groups had lost only a small portion of their military arsenal during Operation Protective Edge.
“The resistance will always be on the side of the people,” he said. “Our demands are just, legitimate and humane.”
Liberman discussed the ceasefire efforts during a phone call with US Secretary of State John Kerry to thank him for the successful US efforts to block a binding anti-Israeli resolution in the UN Security Council.
The foreign minister, meanwhile, said in an interview with the German daily Bild that Germany should, along with other EU countries, send inspectors to Gaza’s borders should there be a cease-fire agreement.
“Germany and the EU need to send inspectors to Gaza to control the trade the Palestinians conduct with neighboring states,” he said.
Once a cease-fire is reached, Israel’s two primary objectives are to keep Hamas from rearming anew, and to demilitarize Gaza. Germany, France and Britain have proposed reactivating a European Union monitoring mission (EU BAM) on the Egypt-Gaza border.
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama addressed the cease-fire and efforts to extend it at a Washington press conference on Wednesday.
“I’m very glad that we have at least temporarily achieved a cease-fire,” Obama said, after reaffirming that no country could tolerate rocket fire at its cities, as well as expressing his “distress” at the civilian casualties.
“The question is now, how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way?” According to the president, “the short-term goal has to be to make sure that rocket launches do not resume, that the work that the Israeli government did in closing off these tunnels has been completed, and that we are now in the process of helping to rebuild a Gaza that’s been really badly damaged as a consequence of this conflict.”
Long-term, the president added, “there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world.”
Obama said the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank needed to be involved in the process.
Hinting at what appears to be an intention to try and restart the Israel-Palestinian Authority diplomatic process, Obama said PA President Mahmoud Abbas was “sincere in wanting peace,” but had been “weakened.”
“The populations in the West Bank may have also lost confidence or lost a sense of hope in terms of how to move forward,” he said. “We have to rebuild that, as well.”
Meanwhile, The New York Post reported on Thursday that Netanyahu had urged a visiting congressional delegation to use its influence to prevent Israel from being dragged to the International Criminal Court in The Hague on war crimes charges.
The paper quoted Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) as saying that Netanyahu “asked us to work together to ensure that this strategy of going to the ICC does not succeed.”
Netanyahu “wants the US to use all the tools that we have at our disposal to, No. 1, make sure the world knows that war crimes were not committed by Israel, they were committed by Hamas. And that Israel should not be held to a double standard,” he said.
Also Thursday, the Israel Air Force announced the formation of its new Air Operations Squadron.
The move aims to allow the IAF to expand its defensive and offensive operations, the IDF said. This includes activating new Iron Dome and David’s Sling air defense batteries in the near future, and taking on new offensive missions, which remain classified.
The additional roles that the squadron will over see include support for the IDF Ground Forces and the Israel Navy.
“Ability, operational readiness, and achieving victory are the essence of our goal,” said IAF chief Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel.
“The missions and theaters of operation are growing. The air force’s successes raise the level of expectations.”