Israel issued a stern message to Hamas against further violence as a shaky calm appeared to descend upon the Gaza border late Thursday night.
The security cabinet convened on for four house to discuss both a cease-fire understanding and increased military activity against Gaza.
A brief statement was issued immediately after the meeting, saying: “The IDF has been instructed to continue to act forcefully against perpetrators of terror.”
Ministers discussed options as warning sirens continued to ring out across southern Israel, which had already suffered close to 200 rockets in slightly over a 24-hour period.
As Israel was striking a Hamas headquarters in Gaza, the cabinet convened at 6 p.m. at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“Hamas suffered a severe blow,” an Israeli official told reporters in the late afternoon. “Israel will continue to act with force.”
After the meeting a number of media outlets reported that a cease-fire had been reached. The Defense Ministry immediately rejected that report, but the lack of violence indicated a possible restoration of calm.
The summer has have been marked by violent flare-ups, followed by short periods of calm before another round of hostilities.
Prior Thursday night’s meeting, “the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense instructed the IDF to prepare for every possibility,” an official said.
Even before the rockets began to fall, the security cabinet had been scheduled to discuss Gaza, including a wide-ranging cease fire understanding that the UN and Egypt has pressed all sides to accept.
The UN and Egypt want to broker a complex deal that would end Hamas rule of Gaza and restore Palestinian Authority of Gaza, lift Israeli restrictions on the crossings and provide an economic package for Gaza.
Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former director-general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said the Israeli-Hamas flare up was a show of force by Hamas to highlight that any deal they may make with Israel was not due to any weakness on its part.
“It is extremely important for Hamas to deliver the message that they are not going there because they are weak,” said Kuperwasser, who added that the rocket barrage was an attempt by Hamas “to show that this is not the case. We may find ourselves in a situation where we don’t have that many options except to take harsher steps against Hamas that may lead to a further escalation.”
He added that he didn’t think that an Israeli military campaign would lead to an escalation of violence on Israel’s other borders. “The issue right now is in Gaza.”
“I do not think that any of the other players have any appetite to raise the tensions on their front.” Kuperwasser spoke with reporters through the Israel Project.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washingotn, “Overall, we condemn the launching of missile attacks into Israel and call for an end to the destructive violence.
“We’ve seen reports that 180 or so rocket attacks have taken place, shot from Gaza into Israel, and we fully support Israel’s right to defend itself and to take actions to prevent provocations of that nature,” Nauert said.
“Let’s not forget that Hamas bears ultimate responsibility for the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. It’s a tremendous concern of ours,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told the mayor of Sderot and regional council heads in the Gaza vicinity, “We will do what needs to be done.”
The media speculated on Thursday that a military campaign could include the evacuation of Gaza border communities.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), who was also the previous ambassador to the United States, warned that such a move would be a mistake and would deliver a major public relations victory to Hamas.
The international media will highlight the fact that Israelis can flee while the Palestinians in Gaza remained under fire.
“We have to prepare militarily and diplomatically for battle,” he tweeted.
President Reuven Rivlin said, “We do not know what is right for us and where we are going, but when there is an attack against us we will respond with force.”
“Citizens of the South, we are all standing with you
. It is time to open our hearts, houses and accommodations for the benefit of the residents of the South. Give [southern residents] joy at a time when they are running to shelters and their land is up in flames.”
In New York, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon called on that body’s secretary-general and Security Council members to condemn Hamas’s rocket fire against Israel.
“Sirens again burst the hopes of children near the Gaza border for a quiet summer vacation – no country would stand for such a situation. The international community must condemn Hamas and hold the organization responsible for this incomparable terror attack,” said Danon.
“Israel will continue to use all necessary tools to prevent harm to its citizens and defend its sovereignty.”
France said it “deplores the escalation of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. It condemns the firing of rockets toward Israel and would like restraint to prevail and the ceasefire to be upheld by all parties in order to prevent further civilian casualties.”
“These incidents underscore the urgent need to work toward finding a lasting political solution for Gaza and to respond effectively to the humanitarian crisis affecting the Palestinian population,” France said.
“This notably requires the lifting of the blockade, on the one hand – while respecting Israel’s security concerns – and the achievement of inter-Palestinian reconciliation and the full return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, on the other,” it said.
British Minister for the Middle East and North Africa Alistair Burt tweeted that he was “concerned by deteriorating situation in Gaza/Israel and civilian casualties, inc. reports of death of pregnant woman and 1yr old child in Gaza. Hamas must end attacks against Israel. Support UN/Egypt efforts to restore calm and agree ceasefire. Escalation is in no one’s interest.”
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