Israel will send its team of negotiators back to Cairo on Monday if Hamas honors the 72-hour cease-fire that went into effect at midnight, diplomatic officials said Sunday evening.
Rocket sirens were sounded in Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Kiryat Malachi at around 11:45 p.m. on Tuesday. The army confirmed that the Iron Dome rocket defense system intercepted two rockets over Ashdod and an additional rocket landed in an open area of the port city.
An additional rocket fired at the Tel Aviv area fell in an open area. No rocket alert sirens sounded in the area.
The officials said that Israel had accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal, the second 72-hour truce in a week.
Hamas refused to extend the previous truce, which expired Friday morning, and resumed firing rockets and mortars.
The IDF responded by hitting dozens of terrorist targets inside the Strip.
According to the officials, in accordance with Israel’s policy that it will not negotiate a longer-term cease-fire while under fire, Israel’s negotiating team will return to Cairo on Monday only if the cease-fire holds.
Israel, one government official said, was going into this truce with its eyes “wide open,” well aware of with whom it was dealing, and of how Hamas and Islamic Jihad had broken numerous ceasefires over the last month.
Asked why Jerusalem believes Hamas accepted the cease-fire after rejecting an extension on Friday morning, he said that Hamas was under a great deal of strain that included not only military pressure from Israel but also pressure from many in the Arab world, as well as people in Gaza who want to see the crisis end.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, meanwhile, said Sunday that any lasting ceasefire with Israel should include the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Mashaal, who is based in Qatar, told AFP that the latest cease-fire agreement, which was announced Sunday evening, is one of the “ways or tactics to ensure successful negotiations or to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.”
Mashaal reiterated Hamas’s insistence that all its demands be met “and that the Gaza Strip live without the blockade.”
He warned that in the case of Israeli “procrastination or continued aggression, Hamas is ready with other Palestinian factions to resist on the ground and politically and to face all possibilities.”
The new cease-fire agreement came after the Palestinians said they would leave Cairo if a deal wasn’t reached by Sunday.
Hamas’s top negotiator, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said after the Egyptians announced the new cease-fire agreement that the Palestinians accepted the deal after Israel responded positively.
Another Hamas official, Izzat al-Risheq, said that the Palestinian acceptance of the cease-fire came after the Egyptians informed them of Israel’s agreement.
Al-Risheq said that the cease-fire was unconditional and that negotiations would continue, to achieve the demands of Hamas and other Palestinian groups. He called on Israel to stop wasting time and display seriousness in dealing with the crisis.
Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo cease-fire talks, said the agreement came after Israel agreed to resume negotiations with the Palestinians unconditionally.
Ahmed, who is a senior Fatah official, said that the Palestinian delegation was keen to take advantage of the new truce to achieve a comprehensive deal on a permanent cease-fire.
He appealed to the international community to provide the Gaza Strip with food and humanitarian and medical aid, and to repair destroyed infrastructure.
“The Egyptians notified us that the Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo and that negotiations between the two sides would resume through Egyptian mediators,” Ahmed said.
He added that the Palestinian “national consensus” government headed by Rami Hamdallah would be responsible for implementing any agreement over the Gaza Strip.
Just hours before Israel accepted the proposal, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting that Operation Protective Edge was continuing.
“I said at the beginning of the campaign that it will take time, and patience is needed,” Netanyahu said to his ministers, some of whom voiced criticism before the meeting – both direct and veiled – of how the government had waged the campaign.
“At no stage did we declare its conclusion,” he said during the meeting that took place in Tel Aviv. “The operation will continue until its goal is met – the restoration of quiet for a long period.”
“Israel will not negotiate under fire and Israel will continue to take all action in order to change the current reality and bring quiet to all of its citizens,” he said.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that Israel entered the negotiations in Cairo last week after the terror tunnels were destroyed and neutralized, and a 72-hour cease-fire declared.
Since Hamas restarted the rocket fire on Friday morning, he said, the IDF had hit back hard, attacking “many dozens” of targets, including terrorists, command centers, rocket depots and rocket launchers.
In an apparent reference to increasing frustration voiced by residents of the South, Ya’alon said he understood their desire for security and quiet, and that Israel would not compromise until the rocket fire and terror from Gaza ended. “Operation Protective Edge will continue until we achieve that,” he said.
“If Hamas thinks it can wear us down, it is mistaken,” Ya’alon said.
Before the meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman took a “toldyou- so posture,” telling reporters that the current situation could not be allowed to continue, and that if the government had listened to his arguments from day one, “we would now be beyond all this.” Liberman called for the toppling of Hamas from the beginning.
“The only thing left to do is defeat Hamas, clean up the territory and get out as quickly as possible,” he said.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that “what we need to do is break Hamas’s military strength in Gaza.
That was true before, it is true now, and will be true the longer we wait.”
Netanyahu met President Reuven Rivlin to brief him on developments.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni presented the parameters she said needed to be part of a “day after” solution for the Gaza Strip, at a Jerusalem briefing for the foreign press:
• A cessation of hostilities.
• A continuation of the transfer of humanitarian assistance from Israel to Gaza.
• Providing for the economic and social needs of the people of Gaza, but doing so in a way that does not strengthen Hamas, while taking into consideration Israel’s security concerns.
• Returning the “effective and legitimate control” of the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip in the long term, and beginning this by reintroducing PA officials at the border crossings, something that the Egyptians are discussing at Rafah.
• Disarming Gaza of all illicit arms, something stipulated in previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
• Preventing the rearmament of Hamas by two methods.
Livni said the prevention of rearmament can be done in two ways. One is by stopping the smuggling through tunnels from Sinai into Gaza, something Egypt is now doing effectively.
And the second is by setting up an international supervisory mechanism to ensure that funds meant for Gazan rehabilitation are not siphoned off for Hamas’s use.
Livni said that such a mechanism was established in the past, when the EU established a framework whereby donor money for Gaza was used for projects directly supervised by the EU.
In addition, Livni said, negotiations between Israel and the PLO need to be renewed, and during those negotiations “we will discuss with them all the things connected to Gaza, like a seaport, airport, and all the stuff that is part of the list of things needed to negotiate as part of a final-status agreement.”
As Israel’s foreign minister in 2006, when Hamas won the PA elections, Livni was instrumental in getting the world to accept three principles for engagement with Hamas that have been maintained until today: Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce violence and terrorism and accept previous Palestinian-Israeli agreements.
It is Hamas’s adamant refusal to accept those conditions that is the reason for the continued blockade of Gaza, Livni said, noting that it would have been lifted had Hamas accepted those conditions.
Livni reiterated her position that a two-state solution is a key Israeli interest, but said that such an agreement is possible only with the PA, which understands that the conflict “is a national one.”
On the other side stands Hamas, which she said represents something “completely different,” and which views the conflict in religious terms: fighting not for the establishment of a Palestinian state “but against the infidels – us.”
She said that when Hamas is stronger, the PA is weaker, and vice versa.
In a related development, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett asked the international community Sunday night to enable Israel to fight Hamas.
Speaking at a conference of the right-wing Besheva weekly newspaper in Jerusalem, Bennett said that Israel is at the forefront of the free world’s fight against Islamic radicalism.
“Give us support,” he said in a message to world leaders. “But we will continue even if you don’t back us.”
Bennett promised residents of the South Sunday night that “until you can go home and live in security, we will not see the mission as complete. It will be tested by actions and results, not in words.”
Khaled Abu Toameh and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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