Israel will respond to Hamas’s latest cease-fire violations with a degree of force that will convince it that breaking truces is not worthwhile, officials said on Tuesday.
The officials’ comments came shortly after three rockets fired from Gaza shortly after 4 p.m. abruptly ended the cease-fire that went into effect last Wednesday night and was extended for another 24 hours on Monday at midnight.
That extension, however, lasted only 16 hours, and shortly after the first volley of rockets struck the South, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon directed the IDF to respond forcefully against terrorist targets inside the Gaza Strip.
Shortly thereafter, Israel’s delegation to indirect talks with the Palestinian factions in Cairo was recalled. The delegation was there to try to reach some kind of understanding through the Egyptians with Hamas that would have enabled a continuation of the quiet.
One official explained Israel’s decision to bring the team home by saying that the Egyptian cease-fire proposal was based on the premise that negotiations would take place when there was a cessation of violence. If the violence restarts, the negotiations cease, the official said, adding that Israel will not negotiate under fire.
The official stressed that as far as Israel was concerned, the Egyptian proposal and track were the only options on the table.
The rocket attacks were a “clear, gross and direct violation of the cease-fire,” the official said. Even if Hamas has grievances about how the negotiations were progressing, it was not an excuse to unilaterally break the ceasefire, he said, adding “We also have our grievances.”
“A cease-fire will not be kept by only one side,” he said.
“When they break it, we will respond.”
Jerusalem was not surprised by the rocket fire, considering that it was the 11th cease-fire Hamas violated since Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, the official said.
Jerusalem had prepared for this contingency, and military plans were already in place, he said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, told Channel 2 that it was a mistake to hold indirect negotiations with Hamas, and that Israel needed to make clear to the organization that it would get nothing through violence.
Livni said that rather than indirectly engaging with Hamas, Israel should be working together with the US, EU, and various actors in the region to form a common front to work against and isolate the terrorist organization.
She said that Israel needed to work together with the world on a future for Gaza based on the following principles: demilitarizing the Gaza Strip; rehabilitating Gaza, as long as everything that goes in there will be checked to make sure it does not benefit Hamas; and eventually transferring control of the region to the Palestinian Authority, starting by giving it control of the border crossings.
The final element needed to “really change the reality in Gaza” was to make clear that Israel would speak with the PA about “everything, so that the Palestinian people will know that they will not get anything through force,” but that Israel would speak with those who want to reach an agreement and don’t use violence, Livni said.
Hamas, meanwhile, held Israel responsible for the collapse of the Cairo talks and said it was “prepared for all possibilities and developments.”
Israel’s “continued procrastination” did not create the proper climate for achieving a permanent cease-fire, spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri of Hamas said.
Abu Zuhri denied that Hamas was behind Tuesday afternoon’s rocket attacks.
“Hamas has no information about the firing of rockets from Gaza,” he said. “The Zionist air strikes are aimed at thwarting the Cairo discussions. The occupation alone bears responsibility for the escalation.”
Another Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said his movement was determined to force Netanyahu to accept its demands for a longterm cease-fire.
“If Netanyahu did not understand the demands of Gaza through diplomatic language in Cairo, we know how to force him to understand our message,” Barhoum said.
Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo negotiations, announced that no progress has been achieved despite the extension of the cease-fire by 24 hours on Monday night.
“The situation has become more complicated,” he said. “We just presented the Egyptians with a document detailing the position of the Palestinian delegation and we are still waiting for a response.”
Ahmad, a senior Fatah official, accused Israel of trying to impose its will on the Palestinians.
“It’s impossible for the Palestinians to accept this,” he said. “Israel is continuing with its policy of procrastination. We practiced maximum flexibility [during the Cairo talks].”
Meanwhile, Egyptian sources reported that a serious rift erupted between the Fatah and Hamas negotiators in Cairo following reports that the Islamist movement had planned to stage a coup against the PA in the West Bank.
Fatah negotiators demanded clarifications from their Hamas colleagues regarding Israel’s announcement that it had arrested more than 90 Hamas activists in the West Bank in connection with the coup plot, the sources said.
Hamas officials in Cairo strongly denied the claims and urged Fatah to ignore them, the sources continued.
Jihad al-Harazeen, a senior Fatah official, told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry al-Youm that the PA leadership was checking the veracity of the Israeli announcement.
“If it is proven that there was a new coup, we will deal with those responsible,” he said.
In Washington, meanwhile, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf expressed grave concern over the latest breach in a ceasefire.
The US blamed Hamas for the resumption of rocket fire from the Strip, noting that Hamas was responsible for security throughout the territory.
“It is our understanding that the cease-fire has broken,” Harf said.
“We are very concerned about today’s developments.
“We call for an immediate end to rocket fire and hostilities,” she said.
Michael Wilner contributed to this report from Washington.