The security cabinet met in a long session Tuesday night to discuss Israel’s position on the negotiations in Cairo to put together a more-lasting arrangement, as well as the 72-hour cease-fire that went effect in the morning and held throughout the day.
The Israeli team that will conduct indirect negotiations through Egypt in Cairo includes Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) head Yoram Cohen, the Defense Ministry’s Amos Gilad and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho.
The cease-fire came into effect at 8 a.m. on the 29th day of Operation Protective Edge, and was the first of eight cease-fires over this period that Gazans did not violate with even a single rocket or mortar shell.
Hamas fired a volley of rockets in the direction of Jerusalem just before the cease-fire began. In the last minutes before it went into effect, 17 rockets were fired into Israel, reaching the South, the Center, the Jerusalem area and the West Bank, according to the IDF. One hit a house in a Palestinian village near Bethlehem, causing major damage.
Iron Dome interceptors shot down six of the 17 rockets, the army said.
While Hamas has a long list of demands it is presenting to the Egyptians, Israel – according to government officials – is concentrating on two main issues: preventing Hamas from rearming in the short term, and demilitarizing Gaza over the long run.
With the tunnel threat neutralized, and Hamas’s rocket capabilities greatly diminished, Israel will insist on a mechanism to ensure that it is unable to rearm as it has done after previous campaigns.
One official defined some of Hamas’s demands – such as an building an airport and seaport in the Gaza Strip – as in “outer space.” Regarding the demand that the Hamas prisoners released in the Gilad Schalit deal – and rearrested last month following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers – be freed, the official said he was not aware that is on the table at all.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials from Gaza traveled to Cairo on Tuesday. The officials – Khalil al-Haya and Emad al-Alami of Hamas and Khaled al-Batsh of Islamic Jihad – traveled through the Rafah border crossing to Sinai after the Egyptians managed to receive assurances that Israel would not target them.
The three men will join the Palestinian delegation that arrived in Cairo earlier this week for discussions with the Egyptians about ways of ending the fighting in the Gaza Strip. The delegation, which is headed by Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed, consists of senior representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad who are based in Qatar and Syria.
Sources close to Hamas claimed the Egyptians have rejected some of the demands that were presented by the Palestinian delegation a few days ago, including the reopening of the Rafah border crossing and the airport in the southern Gaza Strip, as well as the construction of a seaport.
Former Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said the delegation was sticking to its demands and would not compromise on them. Israel would not be able to make political gains following its “failure” on the battlefield, Haniyeh said in a statement.
Islamic Jihad’s senior representative, Ziad al-Nakhaleh, announced from Cairo that disarming the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip would not be discussed during the indirect talks with Israel.
“This issue is nonnegotiable,” he stressed.
He also emphasized that the Palestinian delegation would not make any concessions on its demands, first and foremost the lifting of the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Channel 2 reported that early on in the campaign the IDF presented the security cabinet with what it estimated would be the cost of a reconquest of Gaza: hundreds of soldiers killed, a number of others either kidnapped or their bodies held by Hamas, jeopardizing the peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, thousands of Palestinians killed, and an operation to “cleanse” the Gaza Strip that would take five years.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu issued a statement on Tuesday praising the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for neutralizing the terrorist tunnels from Gaza, but reiterating that there was no guarantee of 100 percent success.
“This was a complicated action taken by heroic soldiers under difficult combat conditions,” the prime minister said.
The tunnels’ destruction harmed a strategic Hamas weapon in which it invested tremendously over the years, he said. The tunnels would have allowed Hamas to kidnap and murder many civilians and soldiers in simultaneous attacks from a number of tunnels that penetrated into Israel, he said.
“As I said at the beginning there is no guarantee of 100 percent success, but we did everything to achieve the maximum,” he said.
Netanyahu sent his condolences to the bereaved families of the soldiers killed in action, and said that in his conversations with each family he stressed that their sons died in the most just battle possible.
Ben Hartman contributed to this report.