Ceasefire goes into effect in south following unprecedented rocket barrage

Security cabinet directs IDF to ‘continue operations as necessary’ • Liberman, Bennett distance themselves from ceasefire.

An Israeli soldier stands next to an armoured personnel carriers (APC) in a field in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza, November 13, 2018  (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
An Israeli soldier stands next to an armoured personnel carriers (APC) in a field in southern Israel, near the border with Gaza, November 13, 2018
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
An unofficial ceasefire went into effect in the South on Tuesday evening following a barrage of some 460 rockets fired on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Whether the ceasefire will remain in place, one Israeli official said, is dependent on what happens on the ground.
The joint command of the Palestinian armed factions announced the ceasefire on Tuesday afternoon, saying they would abide by the Egyptian-brokered deal “as long as the Zionist enemy does the same.”
At about the same time, Israel’s security cabinet – after meeting for over six hours in Tel Aviv – issued a laconic and vague statement saying that the IDF would continue to act as necessary. The statement did not mention a cease-fire.
“The cabinet was briefed by the IDF and security officials about the attacks and the extent of operations against the terrorists in Gaza,” the statement read.  “The security cabinet instructed the IDF to continue its operations as necessary.”
During the security cabinet meeting, the ministers heard briefings from top IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials, who were all against widening the IDF response and rejected a full-fledged, prolonged military campaign.
Their position was backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who over the last few weeks has made clear that he wants to avoid a war in Gaza, because Israel does not want to reclaim the region, being as there is no party will assume responsibility for it.
Four ministers voiced opposition to a ceasefire, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Jerusalem Affairs Minister and Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and two Bayit Yehudi ministers: Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
The ceasefire angry protests in Sderot as a number of residents – who have faced months of terror from Gaza and wanted to see a more aggressive Israeli response – blocked roads into the city. In Gaza, on the other hand, there were a number of gatherings that took the form of victory rallies.
According to Israeli officials, Hamas requested the cease-fire and messages to that effect came to Jerusalem from four different mediators: Egypt, the UN, Norway and Switzerland – both European countries are among the major donors to the Palestinians.
But a representative of one of the terrorist groups in Gaza denied that a cease-fire had been reached. “We haven’t been notified of any understandings concerning a ceasefire,” he said. “We know that the Egyptians and the UN are trying to arrange a ceasefire, but we still haven’t received any word that Israel will stop its attacks. We’re only responding to the Israeli aggression. Once the aggression stops, there will be calm.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the UN Security Council was scheduled to hold an emergency session on the situation in Gaza. Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said before the meeting that Israel “will not accept a call for both sides to exercise restraint. There is one side that attacks and fires 400 missiles at civilian populations, and there is another side that protects its citizens.” He added that “every member of the security council should ask themselves how they would respond after a barrage of missiles on their country.”
Senior Hamas official Izzat al-Risheq called on the international community to condemn the Israeli attacks, which came in response to the barrage of rocket fire from Gaza.
The security cabinet’s decision to give the ceasefire a chance ruffled political feathers, as ministers further on the right inside the forum – apparently concerned about the political implications of supporting a ceasefire since Israel is expected to go to the polls soon – rushed to clarify afterwards that they were not in favor of the move.
Both Liberman and Bennett issued statements saying that reports mentioning their support of stopping IDF actions at this time were, in Liberman’s words, “fake news,” and – according to Bennett’s statement – “a complete lie.”
Liberman and Bennett, both eyeing voters on the hard right, have been at loggerheads for weeks over the IDF’s policy in Gaza and both have publicly come out in favor of a more aggressive position than the one taken by Netanyahu.
The prime minister’s policies were also attacked by the opposition.
Opposition head Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) called the recent events “a colossal security failure by the right wing government, and a fatal blow” to Israel’s deterrence. She said that “diplomatic blindness led Israel into the hands of Hamas and made the residents of the South the terrorist organization’s hostages. It is clear tonight that the Right does not have a solution to the security situation, we do.”
And Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid said that Netanyahu “abandoned” the residents of the South as well as Israel’s deterrent capability.
Hamas, he said, began this round of fighting, ran it the way it desired, and decided when it would end. He slammed Netanyahu for saying that there is no solution to the situation in Gaza, arguing that it should begin with Hamas “being disproportionately beaten by a hard blow.”
Khaled Abu Toameh and Reuters contributed to this report.