In a surprise move, the Egyptians resumed their efforts to achieve a truce agreement between Israel and Hamas, in a meeting in Gaza on Thursday one day after two rockets were launched at Israel.
Three senior officials with Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Mukhabarat, held talks with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a bid to avert a military confrontation between Hamas and Israel. The three, Ayman Badi, Ahmed Abdel Khaleq and Hammam Abu Zeid, returned to the Gaza Strip on Thursday after leaving the coastal enclave late Wednesday.
Unconfirmed reports said the Egyptian officials held talks in Israel and Ramallah on how to prevent a further deterioration in the Gaza Strip.
Sources close to Hamas said the Egyptian intelligence officials entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez border crossing for additional talks with Hamas leaders on the prospered truce agreement and ways of ending the power struggle between Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.
The head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Gen. Abbas Kamel, canceled a visit he had planned to the Gaza Strip and Ramallah on Thursday in the aftermath of Wednesday’s rocket attacks, which were followed by Israel Air Force strikes on some 20 terror targets in the coastal enclave.
Kamel is reported to have been angered by the rocket attacks, which came hours before his planned visit and while his senior aides were visiting the Gaza Strip.
The sources said that the Egyptian intelligence officials who were in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday succeeded in averting a military confrontation between Israel and Hamas. According to the sources, the Egyptians relayed a message to Israel to the effect that the rocket attacks were not initiated by the leadership of Hamas or any major terrorist group, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The two groups have denied responsibility for the launching of the rockets, but have thus far offered no details about the party responsible.
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No significant Gaza related violence occurred on Thursday, with many expecting a possible resumption on Friday.
The border violence is often the worst on Friday, during events related to the Hamas-led “March of Return” protests that began on March 30.
Late Wednesday night, Israel’s security cabinet met for more than five hours to discuss the best way to respond to the rocket attack and the continued Palestinian violence along Israel’s southern border with Gaza, including the launching of incendiary devices against Israel.
Among the cabinet’s considerations was a wide-scale military operation and a harsher reaction to border violence. No statement was released after the cabinet meeting.
But one of its members, Construction Minister Yoav Gallant hinted Thursday that Israel would carry out a stronger response against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“I do not refer to the content of the cabinet discussions, but I can say one thing very explicitly – the game is about to change. We will no longer accept the fire terror,” Gallant said.
Prior to the meeting, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told the media that a military strike was needed to deliver a “harsh blow” to Hamas.
During the meeting, according to Channel 2, ministers attacked IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot for his response to the border violence and Liberman for not having a plan to deal with the Gaza violence.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz asked Liberman what he meant by a harsh blow, if he was talking about a war and did he mean for Israel to regain military control of Gaza.
Liberman responded that he did not intend for the Israeli military to retake Gaza.
Katz told Liberman that he had no plan on the table.
Liberman later told the media that cabinet ministers were playing police at the expense of Israeli security by attacking Eisenkot, noting that he was only carrying out their policy.
In light of Wednesday’s rocket attack, the Airports Authority changed the landing patterns at Ben-Gurion Airport on Thursday evening, the body said in a statement. This does not change the flight schedules.
Also Thursday, Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin al-Qassam, posted a 25-second video featuring some of its members standing next to large rockets. The video contained a caption in Hebrew addressed to Israel that read: “We recommend that you get us right. A mistake will not do you any good.”
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told the French television network France 24 that those who fired the rockets at Israel on Wednesday sought to aggravate tensions in the region and give Israel an excuse not to lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip.
He said he did not rule out the possibility that Israel or the PA were behind the rocket attacks. “Had Hamas carried out the attacks, it would have said so without hesitation,” he added.
Zahar dismissed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “empty threat” to launch a military operation in the Gaza Strip in response to the rocket attacks and the weekly Hamas-sponsored demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
“He makes threats every day,” Zahar said. “These are empty threats because he knows they don’t reach the ears of the people. This man is facing a real crisis and he is unable to face the unarmed resistance. But if there is an [Israeli] aggression, we will respond similarly.”
In response to Zahar’s accusations, Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmeh accused Hamas of “political hypocrisy and schizophrenia.” Qawasmeh noted that when the PA had in the past called for halting rocket attacks on Israel, Hamas accused it of betraying the Palestinians.
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